Thursday, 28 July 2011

Happy Birthday, Mum!

Today is my mother's birthday. I sent her a mail as I couldn't reach her by phone. She finally retired this last May i.e. two months ago, having served as librarian, teacher and local politician since the age of 18. Somewhere along the line, 1981, I think it was, she moved to another part of the country, was out of work for a little while and missed paying six months of N.I. contributions which severely dented her pension prospects, so she carried on working beyond retirement age to fill the gap. As a single parent from 1969 onwards she single-handedly brought up two boys in an era when divorce was more than frowned upon, all the time working full-time as a schoolteacher and never received a penny of benefits. She would stay up every weekday until midnight planning lessons and marking for the following day and never complained about her lot. In one year, she lost her mother (my grandmother), at the age of 59 to lung cancer, herself gave up smoking and got divorced, yet ploughed on, working full-time and bringing up two feisty and renegade sons without so much as an Oy Vay on the horizon. This 'single parent' saw her sons off to university and on to respectively Detective Inspector at Scotland Yard and a not-so-unsuccessful working musician. Both my brother and I speak five languages each, too. Nothing directly to do with Mum, but indicative of the culture of education we'd received.

After several years as County and Borough Councillor following retirement, my Mum was nominated as Mayor of King's Lynn and West Norfolk, where one of her subjects was HM The Queen (Sandringham, you see), with whom she built up an amusing relationship, having received her in King's Lynn a number of times and having been invited to Buckingham Palace and Sandringham House for genteel, royal bun fights. After her stint as Mayor, where she absolved 500 official functions in one calendar year without anyone at home to cook or clean up for her, she returned to being Borough Councillor until she decided she could take the committees and self-interested in-fighting no more and announced she would not stand as LibDem candidate this year for her ward and would retire. She was staying with us in Toulouse the day of the elections, yet still insisted I gave her the links to the election results before I left for work so she could see who had got elected and who not. I said "Mum, it's not your problem any more" but it clearly was; she was concerned about who had got in. For any Telegraph readers (like myself) out there: her expenses bill for 17 years of service: £3.64. One day as Mayor, she was absolutely ravenous between four engagements (6am - 5pm) where no lunch had been scheduled and said to herself "Hell, just this once". Bon appetit, maman.

My mother turned 79, today. Freshly retired after a lifetime of service to her family, her pupils and her constituents. And no, she doesn't live in a huge house, she rents a two-bedroomed bungalow in the country as she paid off all my father's debts and could never afford to buy. You'll instantly recognise my mother if you bump into her: she'll be the one smiling and asking you if she can give you a hand. Happy Birthday, Mum, I love you.

Countdown to Sunday.

Since getting back from Austria on Monday life has just felt like pleasantly marking time. We had our premiere on Tuesday, on Wednesday I went to a colleague's production then off to the wonderful Stadtbad for a dip, picking up a pizza and a bottle of happy juice for the evening. Coached a bit of The Ring this morning, then it was back to the pool for a couple of hours then off to the supermarket to get some sustenance to tide me over till morn. I don't normally do this ready-meal nonsense, but seeing as I'm off to England on Sunday I'm loathe to buy too much fresh fruit and veg in case it goes off while I'm gone and I'm greeted by cockroaches and rats the size of NBA superstars upon my return. The two remaining onions I had in the larder were full of mites by the time I got back from my Austrian trip and I'm sorry, but creepy-crawlies in the kitchen make my flesh creep. And crawl.

Sunday heralds being with the family for a few days and I can't wait. Can't wait to hold those children in my arms. It's been far too long; I've hardly seen them since May 22nd, when I left for Chile. God only knows how my colleagues do this all the time; I think I'd wither and die within the year. What's more, I just yesterday turned down another offer to go back to Chile in late August. Apart from anything else, my regular day job starts up again at the end of that month, but I can see how a freelancer would leap at the chance and postpone his big family reunion for another three to four weeks. This profession is dominated by people who either have no family or, by necessity, neglect the one they have to a certain degree; it's a precarious life and if someone offers you work you say 'yes', then think later. Zubin Mehta was once asked in an interview how he'd combined his extraordinary career with the fact of being father to three children. The meat of his reply was that music had taken priority and that 'it was too late, now'. Depressing. I honestly thank my lucky stars that I can work at a high level in this business and be with my family 95% of the year. Anyone who understands how classical music works will realise how lucky and unusual that is. Anyhow, mustn't get too maudlin about this; Sunday's not far off and the Wagners are organising a bun fight for us tomorrow. It's not like in years gone by, when we'd all trot off to Wolfgang Wagner's house but times change. Apart from anything else, the people who invited us to the house are no longer with us and a new broom has swept through the Green Hill, so new entertainment techniques are to be expected. Can't get too sloshed, though; we've got a performance the next day.

Isn't that gorgeous? Corresponds to Mrs. F and the Fingernails, too. Only another couple of days.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Andrea Chénier, Bregenzer Festspiele

I drove down to Lech am Arlberg in Austria, yesterday, in preparation for my recital on Sunday with KFV and SK, stopping off in Garmisch-Partenkirchen to visit the Richard Strauss Institute; something I've been promising myself for years. The place is fascinating and includes a good exhibition of his life and works, his house in Garmisch and quite a few of his artefacts, including - horror of horrors - a clip-on bow tie. I honestly thought he was better than that. Upstairs, there's a superb library chock-a-block with just about everything ever written on or by him. I left the building with a three-volume collection of his correspondance with colleagues and, of course, a mug.

I got to Lech at 6.30pm and was immediately asked if I wanted to go on the trip to the premiere of Andrea Chenier at the Bregenzer Festspiele. Knackered as I was I agreed and hell, what a good decision that turned out to be.
For those unfamiliar with the Bregenz Festival, one of the productions is on Lake Constance. You sit in a 7000-seater grandstand and the action takes place on a stage built on the water. It's spectacular; we saw Tosca there a few years back, the production which is featured in the James Bond film A Quantum of Solace. Practically every production done on the lake is Opera Meets Cirque du Soleil and is a feast for the eyes and ears. Yesterday's Andrea Chenier was, along with Stefan Herheim's production of Parsifal at the Bayreuth Festival, quite simply the best thing I've seen on an operatic stage, ever. The singing is, for the most part, very good, in particular Hector Sandoval's revolutionary poet, but it's the way that opera singers, dancers, acrobats and performance swimmers combine so seamlessly under Keith Warner's direction to tell the story of the doomed poet without one special effect ever appearing gratuitous. The set is a marvel to behold. Designed by David Fielding, it is an enormous, stylised reproduction of part of Jacques-Louis David's 1793 painting La Mort de Marat. Jean Paul Marat was a radical Jacobine, stabbed to death in his bath by the 'moderate' Girondine Charlotte Corday and it is André Chénier's impassioned ode to her that seals his death warrant. In addition, there's an over-dimensional open book and a hand surging out of the water, carrying a tray, providing two more stages and an enormous knife which appears out of the water, as if from nowhere. The face is incredible: the eyes open and close, are by turns vacant or alive, the mouth opens, acrobats appear out of the top of her skull, singers are seen to walk amongst the folds of his nightcap. The skin changes colour according to the plot and, finally, enormous needles appear out of the entire face and upper body, impaling the citizens and looking, to all intents and purposes, like the Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian. As Chénier and Maddalena are executed the body turns the colour of a corpse, the lips turn blue, the eye sockets black. Their death is represented by Idria Legray, the lady Maddalena replaced on the scaffold, slowly being engulfed in the French Flag, a tricolour stream of water, in the enormous facsimile mirror, presided over by the Grim Reaper, an omnipresent character the entire evening. I'll try to find a picture of the set. Don't go away.

Yes! There it is. The hand holding the platter starts off in front of the bust i.e. where you can see the knife. The pièce de résistance was the court scene, where the head tipped back as if its throat had been slit (this being the implication) to reveal stacks of enormous books and the procurators suspended in mid-air. Lots of swirling dried ice for this scene, naturally. Quite the most amazing thing I've seen for many a long year. If you have the opportunity to see it this year, it runs in Bregenz, Austria, until August 21st. They're doing it next year, too. Book now.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Nothing French About This Blog, Anymore.

Apart from a few days, mid-June, I've not been in France since May 22nd and won't return until late August. I'm used to spending the entire summer abroad but hooking three weeks in South America on the front completely changed the rules of the game and I'm horrified, yet again, at just how adaptable human beings are. It's a basic survival instinct, I know, I know, but I don't like life feeling 'normal' without the family around. OK, enough of that.

I was just re-reading some early posts on this blog, and I was amazed at how life has changed these last few years. To think I got into such a lather about some of those issues, though some were justified (the noisy neighbours, the drug dealer, the cretins pouring toxic liquid into the gutter). As for the rest, I suppose I'm just a bit older and less neurotic than I was. Priorities change and I'm not as angry as I was. I don't know whether that's a good thing, as we arty types are supposed to all be pathetically immature and throw TVs out of hotel room windows or some such crap, before channeling our creativity into a mould-busting performance of Beethoven's Fifth, Bohemian Rhapsody or Hamlet. I say: keep the child-like passion for the music and save your money on refurbishment. Someone once said that artists should never have children as they should never be distracted from their path and creativity. F*** knows what that was all about, but it was someone pretty famous; an author, I think, and not just any old one. If you don't live, love and create, how can you be an artist? All your 'artistic' creations are mere conjecture, born in a vacuum of talent but bereft of experience.

Yup, nothing French about this blog anymore, at all. Circulez, n'y a rien à voir...

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Eva Perón - 7th May, 1919 - 26th July, 1952

I've just finished reading maybe my fourth book about Evita, a fairly poorly-written tome by Abel Posse which, nonetheless, contains an awful lot of information. Set in the last months of Eva's life, we juxtapose the early 1950's with her personal history starting in Los Toldos, eventually catching up with her remaining days in Buenos Aires. The end is, actually, extremely good, but you need to be an Argentina fan like myself to make it through to page 350 or thereabouts, when he gets bitten by the great biographer bug and seriously turns up the heat. We have Argentinian friends in Toulouse, both younger than myself, who have pictures of Evita in their flat, even though she'd been dead twenty years before the elder of the two was born. Apparently, a few years ago, the Argentinian government minted a coin with her effigy. In just over a week her beloved country will commemorate the 59th year of her passing, yet her impact remains, apparently, undented. Once back in Toulouse, I must ask our friends just what it is that is so enduring about Eva Ibarguren/Duarte, later Perón. Better still, I need to spend some serious time in Argentina.

Instead of the usual pictures of Eva, I'm going to post one of Doctor Pedro Ara - posed, of course - who was entrusted with enbalming her body, a task which took over a year and earned him around $100,000:

General Pedro Aramburu participated in the 1955 coup which deposed Perón, who was then sent into exile in Panama. He is said to have been behind sending Evita's embalmed body out of the country, along with a host of fake coffins to throw people off the scent. She eventually turned up in a Milan cemetery in 1972 under the name of Señora Maggio. Her body was returned to Juan Perón who, at that time, was living in exile with his third wife in Franco's Spain. She can now be found in the Duarte/Ibarguren family vault in Buenos Aires' most elegant cemetery, La Recoleta. Aramburu was kidnapped, tortured and murdered by political enemies in 1970.

It's a fascinating story, one with more twists and turns than a crime novel,  seemingly distant geographically yet within chronological reach of most people alive today.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Putting the record straight.

There are some people who claim that Bayreuth was consistently much better in years gone by, that the singers these days don't hold a candle to the stars of yesteryear 'n' all that. It's true that there were fine singers in the past, but to implicitly proclaim every performance then was superior to what is available now is pure folly. There are excellent Bayreuth recordings featuring luminaries such as Wolfgang Windgassen, Leonie Rysanek, Martha Mödl, Frieda Leider etc but let's just have a quick look at the tenors who sang here last year:

Jonas Kaufmann
Klaus Florian Vogt
Lance Ryan
Simon O'Neill
Johan Botha
Robert Dean Smith
Christopher Ventris
Norbert Ernst

Considering that even the biggest houses worldwide practically never schedule more than two Wagner works each season and that we perform anything between five and eight in five weeks, uniting talent like that is going it some. Here are some of the other names who've sung here since I've been working here:

Nina Stemme
Ricarda Merbeth
Adrienne Pieczonka
Judith Nemeth
Linda Watson
Eva-Maria Westbroek
Michaela Kaune
Peter Seiffert
Petra-Maria Schnitzer
Irene Theorin
Evelyn Herlitzius
Annette Dasch
Camilla  Nylund
Frank van Aken
John Tomlinson
Olaf Bär
John Wegner
Kwangchoul Youn
Samuel Youn
Georg Zeppenfeld
Arthur Korn
Reinhard Hagen
Hans-Peter König
Andreas Schmidt
Stephen Gould
Petra Lang
Roman Trekel
Michael Nagy
Michael Volle
Adrian Eröd
James Rutherford
Robert Holl
Alan Titus

If I'd started a couple of years earlier I'd have been able to add Placido Domingo and Waltraud Meier to that list.

I could go on and on. Hardly the moribund event some naysayers harp on about. Considering the festival now has to compete with the world of the chequebook-driven, photogenic, media-hyped 'star', the fact that artists of such stature still want to spend their summer performing Wagner in his own theatre says a lot for their integrity. Bayreuth is a great leveller: Wagner's music is always, without exception, more impressive than even the most talented and photogenic interpreter and no-one is bigger than the creator, here. It's fantastic. Musical life the way it should be.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Schools on the Grünen Hügel

The part of Bayreuth where the Festspielhaus is located is called the Green Hill, or Grüner Hügel and it's pretty much the northern edge of the town. Beyond Richard Wagner's theatre are a restaurant, a forest and a few schools, and it's the latter I want to mention, here.

A spread-out estate built up around the theatre in the 1950's, all the streets being named after Wagner's operas or characters therein. So we've got Tannhäuserstrasse, Dalandweg, Lohengrinstrasse, Amfortasweg etc. You get the picture. Just behind my street up here is not only a pre-school but a primary school and a vocational secondary school, or Realschule, as it's known, here. Beyond that little campus is a good Italian restaurant, the Bürgerreuth, and then the forest. Every morning I hear the children enjoying playtime and pretty much always cross them going home as I'm on my way either to or from the theatre. The wonderful thing is that even the youngest of these children walks home on his or her own. There is no danger, here. We're surrounded by fields, apart from the school buses there's next to no traffic and these little people wander home on their own at the age of five, six and seven etc, pausing to look at flowers or something else they've seen on the ground in complete safety. How wonderful to be able to start your life like that. I remember walking home from St. Martin's Infants in Salisbury on my own, but that was also the 1960's and life has, sadly, changed a lot since those days. With that in mind it's lovely to see young children still able to do that in parts of Europe. How sad that something so natural should now be seen as a luxury. What a sad indictment of the world we now live in.

This is what you see from the schools. It's not like that where the Fingernails go, I can tell you.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Pamela Anderson

A propos of nothing at all, here's a picture of one of my favourite philosophers, Pamela Anderson:

Thank you, and good night.

Visitors from Crawley, West Sussex!!!

I can't tell you how happy I am to have had visitors from Crawley, West Sussex. This is the town I spent twelve years in, from six to 18, living in Tilgate and Gossops Green, going to school at St. Andrew's, Furnace Green, Holy Trinity in Buckswood Drive, then Hazelwick in Three Bridges. Even though it was - and still is, I would imagine - of no particular architectural note, it was a brilliantly planned town, just the right size and with, then as now, I believe, the lowest unemployment rate of anywhere in the UK. This was due to Gatwick Airport (little more than an aerodrome when we first arrived), Manor Royal Industrial Estate and its proximity to London. Crawley had everything going for it, but I think I've written about it in a previous post, maybe the one about Mini ManUtd, I can't remember.

So, dear Crawleyites, thanks for coming. Is L.H. Cloake's records still there? Probably not, but worth asking all the same.

The George Hotel (picture) and the White Hart Inn (opposite) are just about the only pretty buildings in Crawley, but everyone's got a garden. At least they had when I lived there.

No Smoking in the Czech Republic, by the way...

Apart from incredible debt, the one thing which unites EU member states is its no-smoking policy. I'd even go as far as to say that the success of a country's  candidacy depends more on its willingness to demonise smokers than proving it can balance its books. Take the Czech Republic, for example. Anything which even only looks like a public building is covered with improvised No Smoking signs, many of them one-off attempts to copy the classic smoking cigarette in a red circle with a line through it. Karlovy Vary's north station is peppered with attempts to get this simple model right, with varying degrees of success, it must be added: some examples have no red circle at all, so even though the text exhorts you not to light up the picture implies that it's more than OK to do so. In fact, it looks like you're in a designated smoking area and some killjoy has written No Smoking on the wall just to annoy you. This wouldn't be so bad, but the fact is that the station is basically completely open to the elements, so we have people basically being told they can't light up in the open which is, in anyone's book, smoker or not, a gross infringement of civil liberties. The same goes for bus stops. They're all open, but a flimsy attempt at a roof seems to alter its status to that of public building, so no tar, thank you very much. I've now been a non-smoker for four months and I don't miss it one iota, in fact I now find the smell repulsive. Still, I can't help but find this authoritarian, totalitarian Brussels-fuelled intolerance to anything which doesn't fit into the unelected commission's worldwide socialist Common Purpose agenda more than vaguely worrying, I find it downright frightening. Right wingers will walk away from things they don't like; left wingers seek to have them banned. That is effectively the difference, yet it is always the left-wingers accusing the right of intolerance, whereas it is they who are the true fascists of the piece. So ultimately, the Czechs and everyone else in Europe have been happy to impose a blanket infringement of civil liberties in exchange for a bit of money. By the way: the only public building in Europe to possess a smokers' lounge is the European Parliament in Strasbourg, so what does that say about their hypocrisy? See where a simple riff can lead you?

Returning to Karlovy Vary station, the main platform roof is the classic wooden-slatted, inverted V with that raised crown so the steam can escape. The stansions are wrought iron. It's simple yet so beautiful and puts me in mind of the Central Station in Santiago de Chile, designed by someone called Gustave Eiffel who, apart from that and a little bridge in the Dordogne, built nothing of note.

 You think this is a joke, don't you?

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Czech-up time, again.

The cost benefits of Eastern European dental treatment are no secret to anyone these days and I'm happy to avail myself of its amazing value for money. Last year I had four crowns put in, and this morning I headed off again, this time just to have a gold crown replaced. Every time I go to Karlovy Vary, or Karlsbad as the Germans call it, or maybe just plain old Charlie's Bath (as no-one calls it, I'm sure), it's blisteringly hot. You snake through the backwoods of Upper Franconia, the border country railway stations fading with their post-Schengen significance until you reach the Czech town of Cheb, which need not concern us here, save for the fact the place probably engendered the word 'unlovely', even if its station café is quite fun in a comradely, post-communist kind of way.

On the way, you'll have changed trains in Marktredwitz. If the timetable allows, you'll have time to wander into its charming centre and have a look around. The main street is typical of the region: all buildings between 100 - 200 years old, very well - maybe too well - maintained and a landmark with a story. Every little town or village has its claim to fame around here, and Marktredwitz is no exception. Goethe himself once spent a few days in what is now the New Town Hall (Neues Rathaus), August 13th - 18th, 1822, to be precise. You can visit his room during weekday office hours. It is civil servantsville, after all...

My dentist was as brilliant and cheap as he always is and his surgery is the most space-age I've ever seen, but I think I've mentioned this before. Anyhow, there's a supermarket right by the bus stop for the trip back to the station, so I popped in to get a couple of things, one of them, loo paper, being fairly urgent as I knew I was out of the stuff in Bayreuth and wouldn't get back in time to catch the shops. I found the section easily enough but then cackled so loudly that a couple of nearby shoppers turned to look at me. The house brand of loo paper is called 'Grand Finale'. Honestly. You couldn't make it up. I also couldn't possibly not buy a pack with a name like that. I only wish I had the little digital camera with me here so I could have taken a photo and posted it.

I find I can understand quite a few words in Czech, thanks to the leftovers of my mediocre Russian in the 1990's. One phrase which creases me, though, is the Czech for 'No Parking': Ne Parkovat. Honestly, I though English was lazy on occasions. It's almost like a send-up of itself, as if the 'Russian' were No Parkski Here-ski. Buggeroff. Essential words like beer and numbers are very similar. In Russian, you'd order a 'Pivo', but pronounce it 'Piva', as the unstressed 'o' sounds like 'ah'. In Czech, it's 'Pivo', with an 'o'. The price is the same in both, at least at the lovely little kiosk in front of Charlie's Bath's northern station: Dyevit Vosyem, or Twenty-Eight to you and me for a bottle of Gabarinus Premium 12%. Bargain in any language.

Anyhow, it's back to Karlovy Vary/Karlsbad/Charlie's Bath on Saturday to get the real thing fitted in my gob. The next dental undertaking is to have a pesky wisdom tooth removed in October, get a brace on my lower set and eventually have teeth I can present to the outside world. Once the mechanics are out of the way it'll be back to the Czechs for a more photogenic 'grand finale'...

Extra services not reimbursed by the French Sécurité Sociale. I shall write to my MP. Oh, that IS my MP.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Swimming Pools and Beer

Something I didn't mention about the poolside café in Bayreuth is that you don't just get your snacks served up on paper plates and the drinks are as far from Max-Pax as you could imagine: there's proper crockery, glasses for the juices and cups with saucers for the hot drinks, all this three yards from the water's edge. The crowning glory here has to be the fact that you can order any one of five different beers, two of them on tap, and have them served in the appropriate glass, not just a plastic skip like you'd find in Elf 'n' Safety England, not that you'd be able to have a beer inside a public swimming pool there, anyway. In short, you can sit in a delightful little café area and eat and drink as if you were in a normal café. Many people wouild say that it's dangerous, having glass so close to a pool, but the fact remains that disciplined, civic-minded people are able to get away with this precisely because they respect the parameters and don't let it become dangerous. I posted a while back about how the smoking ban was applied differently in Europe. Indisciplined, corrupt countries like France and Italy had to put up with a total ban on day one; places like Germany and Austria had some leeway as it was known they wouldn't abuse the loopholes. Bavaria closed the loophole last summer via referendum, a decision taken by the populace and not the politicians.

So, if you want to enjoy a bit of freedom you have to show you're capable of respecting it. There's no secret, really...

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Stormy Weather

I noted in an earlier post that Bayreuth has all manner of weather, every day, and today is no exception. It was gloriously hot - up around 30°C - all day, and now, at 9.30pm, there is a mother of a storm outside which looks like it could fell trees. I remember one a few years ago which did actually do that, killing a young woman in the process. My house here sits in the middle of a tree-infested garden and I pray every year one won't come crashing down on us. Oh! Now there's lightning, too. There are also two moths playing up in the sitting room lights. How the hell did they get in?

And a thunder crack! This is going to be a long night in Northern Bavaria, I can feel it now...

Stadtbad Bayreuth

I know I've got a tendency to go off the deep end about things, particularly those I like, but you've honestly never experienced municipal bathing perfection until you've had a dip in Bayreuth's Stadtbad, or Town Pool. Built in the 1920's, it is a gem of a building which is beautifully appointed, clean and never full. It's not cheap: without reductions, a ticket will set you back €3.80 but for that you get two pools and a jacuzzi as well as steam baths, a weights room, relaxation areas, terraces and a café right by the water. What's more, unlike in France, you can pitch up in a pair of boxers and just jump in. French pools require you to wear a stupid swimming cap and speedos in order to restrict the filth as much as possible, yet the fundamentally cleaner of the two countries does not see such measures as necessary, presumably assuming the bathing public will show enough responsability concerning their personal hygiene so as to render such by-laws irrelevent. I always think of Napoleon legislating the country beyond what should be necessary so as to protect the people from their own tendencies.
These two Bavarian beauties weren't there this afternoon, but that's pretty much how full it is whenever I go.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Surveys, research and other rubbish.

I've just read an article on the Independent website that recent research has found that people with wider faces are more likely to cheat and lie, yet make better businessman (duh). Make of this shit what you will, but I'm certainly the exception that proves the rule: I'm a useless businessman and couldn't lie to cover up my iniquities if my life depended on it, so I don't cheat. Too stressful and what's the point, anyway? Predictably, the picture they used as a header was Richard Nixon; even forty-odd years after his administration, he's still trotted out as the last person in the developed world to mislead anyone about anything.

I'm not saying it's not worth conducting research into behavioural traits, but should the findings of one group of 'scientists' extrapolated from a mere 192 business students really merit front page treatment in a so-called 'serious' daily? Just a couple of years ago, an admittedly privately-funded item of scientific research in the UK came to the conclusion that a man's enthusiasm for female breasts was - no, seriously - fundamentally sexual in nature. What???? Men find tits attractive? How much did this piece of research cost? I know they were trying to find out if there was maybe an infant-mother angle to explore, but really. Honestly. In the end, who cares? We love tits, it's what we do. Everything else in our life is padding until we can see some more. Is it important where the impulse comes from? OK, that's way too much information about me, but which straight man is any different? Only broad-faced business students would dare disagree with that.

The most upsetting aspect to all this is the fact that our news sources are under such incredible pressure to keep us poor, sad punters supplied with new news items twenty-four hours a day that they are required to publish this kind of drivel and hope they keep their reputation in the process. Little matter the content or erudition, the important thing is to line up a new series of words under the cloak of serious journalism. In the absence of informative, thought-provoking articles we are obliged to continue rating the titles we know, elevating their buffed-up news-wire offerings to the status of true information.

Read it.

Monday, 4 July 2011

I told you so. And I'm not even a journalist.

Back on May 20th I published a post called 'Dominique Strauss-Kahn IV and Serial Misinformation', the contents of which turned out to be remarkably prescient in the light of the last 48 hours or so. I made those comments based on a hunch, that something was just not quite right with the story, aided by having just read a rather fascinating and well-researched book, Flat Earth News. I'm not even a dot a on the journalistic or political landscape, but was still able to unearth a point which soon proved to be contentious, so what are our quality journalists doing out there? Would you mind being a little more honest? And can we play too, please?

Slim-Fast Diet Blog

I would dearly love to know how the 'Slim Fast Diet Blog' became one of my traffic sources. Has there ever been anything I've written which may suggest you'd be better off not eating a couple of Big Macs at 9am or snacking on a dead sheep at three in the afternoon? Anyhow, if you want to lose weight without spending a cent/centime/penny/kopek on any fads or gimmicks, you've come to the right place. Here's how to do it:

1)    Don't eat crap. Fast food is a no-no. Fresh fruit and veg, meat a couple of times a week, fish another couple of times. Other than that, just eat stuff that grows out of the ground.

2)    Don't eat between meals. You should have breakfast, lunch, a bit of tea and dinner. Don't overdo this last one; you probably won't burn the calories unless you're a nightclubber, and even then, you're likely to consume a lot of calories either through alcohol or late-night 'snacks'.

3)    Move your body. Walk when you can, take your bike the rest of the time. This isn't rocket science; we've just invented a thousand ways to be inert and the wheel has turned full circle: the luxury of convenience and inactivity has made repulsive, obese farts out of millions of people all over the world. Reverse the process: throw away the X-Box, the Play Station and anything else which requires the exclusive use of thumbs. Get up off your arses and eat and move the way nature intended you to. Seriously, there is no secret and even less any reason for anyone to spend thousands on the latest, most efficient, scientifically-proven diet. Look at people in central Africa: ripped bodies and amazing teeth. I rest my case.

Never seen the inside of a Burger King in his life.

Franz Liszt 1811 - 1886

Most of you won't know who Franz Liszt was, much less give a s*** that this year is the 200th anniversary of his birth. Still, Bayreuth Town Council cares, and not just because he was a famous composer who revolutionised, amongst many other things,  not only piano literature but also how we listen to it in public. That is a post all of its own and one to which I'll get around e'er long. No, Bayreuth and Liszt go back a long way: one of his daughters, Cosima, was married to the town's meal ticket, Richard Wagner and he also died here, just over the road from Wahnfried, Wagner's house, in a little flat which is now a museum.

This year, Bayreuth is putting out the Liszt flags: there are events and recitals at Steingräber & Söhne, Bayreuth's own piano factory and one of very few independent makes left anywhere, lectures in town and - this is my favourite - a bus (number 310, if you're interested), sporting an enormous photograph of the great man with his name and an internet address - (I think) - where you can find out more about the tributes in his honour. For my part, I find it refreshing that a public body has chosen to spend some of its money in this way, but Germany really does still consider classical music important and not just a refuge of the bourgeoisie, like in France. If anyone ever sees a bus in an English-speaking country plastered with either images of Elgar, Aaron Copland or Percy Grainger instead of adverts for Sex and the City, The X-Factor or Neighbours, then do let me know, but I, for one, will not be holding my breath.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Slow Sunday II

It's been a few days since I've posted, the reason being a go-slow by my home internet access as well as, er, pretty much nothing happening. Both of those elements in equal parts, by the way. This town is certainly THE place to relax in Western Europe, even more so now we have no rehearsals on Sundays. The sky is heavy and overcast, it's about 12°c, so more or less like Toulouse in January, only this is northern Bavaria in July.

So, relax shmelax, I've got Verdi and Puccini to learn for next season, hence my sitting here in Wagner's original rehearsal studio (now a VIP lounge once the festival gets under way), poised at a desk and Steingräber piano, taking advantage of the house wi-fi connection and the fact I am, apart from the lady at the stage door, the only person in the building. Once I've finished tapping out this ill-conceived post containing nothing but a random stream of liquid bollocks I'll turn my attention to one of those Italian masters and hope that Mrs. F will see I'm online and contact me via Skype. Too much time on my hands at the moment, and no mistake.

Take it easy, it's Sunday.