Sunday, 31 July 2011
Mony Mony by Tommy James and the Shondells (1968)
Isn't Wiki wonderful for information like this? There is something about the Nehru jacket, the blur, the still camera and the simple but raw quality of music that is a kind of poetry. Sometimes I think I should write a set of poems about songs and singers just at the edges of historical vision, the périphérique of the ragged moment. So do it. Why not?
The rest of today has been spent translating and in continual communication about the Petition to the Poetry Society Board of Trustees to reinstate the Director. We have well over a thousand signatures now and a press release is in preparation.
One cycle ride, almost hot in the sun, over The Lizard, over the road bridge, round the back lanes and home. About forty minutes.
Saturday, 30 July 2011
The excellent concert is currently up on BBCi, here. I do some talking with Steve Martland, questions from Charles Hazlewood. Love the piano concerto. The LPO are a bit sniffy about Liszt. I am not the best commenter on their comments as long orchestral works lose me several times. Stretches of orchestral colour and development often seem to me like Alexander Pope's description of the Alexandrine measure where he says, brilliantly as ever, in his Essay on Criticism full text here:
A needless Alexandrine ends the song,
That like a wounded snake drags its slow length along.
In the case of music I always think it is my fault. So the second 'Gretchen' movement does seem to drag its slow length towards a welcome re-entry by Mephistopheles (third movement) who was lurking in Faust (first movement) all along. It is not so much, as I was struggling to say, that the devil has all the best tunes, but that the devil steals all the tunes and improves them.
Friday, 29 July 2011
Torquato Tasso is unable to sign because of other commitments but sends his firm support.
At the time of writing this there are 607 signatures. Thank you to everyone who has signed. We are getting there pretty fast and must get this done before Judith Palmer's time runs out. Please do sign.
New messages and background news from previous chair, Anne-Marie Fyfe and the heroic organiser of the requisition, Kate Clanchy.
Wednesday, 27 July 2011
There is now a petition, addressed by myself, and signed by Carol Ann Duffy, Gillian Clarke, Liz Lochead and Jo Shapcott as the first four signatories. The link to the petition is here.
The website for following events through (the official Poetry Society is keeping its mouth shut but leaking money from every other orifice) is here. Do read the former Director, Judith Palmer's statement.
My previous posts on this are here and here. Please do read the comments.
Read also Jane Holland and Katy Evans-Bush here and here. Add Phil at the excellent Silkworms who has tracked the affair throughout.
Full live audio of EGM here, thanks to Martin Alexander.
And thanks for everything, Kate Clanchy. Now let's get this done. Please sign the petition. Anyone interested can sign.
Just brief for now:
1. The trustees of the Poetry Society together with the press (The Guardian, The Independent, and that unspeakable article in The Times) have done their best to crucify Judith Palmer. I presume this is what Colman Getty are getting their £3,000 for and what the Poetry Society is losing it for. Well done, trustees. So you can do character assassination too. See The Independent comments - particularly strong one from Katy Evans-Bush. But this is not, by any means, the end of the matter. Watch this and other spaces.
2. The faces of the young victims of the Norway killings are heart-wrenching. Figures are just figures, but then you see the faces, each no longer a life.
3. The Prom was the Liszt / Bartók / Kodály - it will be broadcast on BBC4 on Friday. Bartók's Piano Concerto No.1 was terrific and beautifully played by Jean-Efflam Bavouzet. Reviewed in The Guardian. Do listen even if you have to put up with my face for a minute here or there. Or you can just listen here. The BBC crew were charm itself and Steve Martland a joy to work with. If I were ever asked to do this again I would immediately say yes, albeit the chance to say anything substantial in two minutes or so (three sets of two minutes) is limited. As for the result, I don't know till I see it, and I doubt there will be a similar occasion in the future.
4. Back to C's parental house about a quarter to midnight. The tired bones of a house now slowly losing its flesh and vital organs. It will need to be sold to pay for nursing care. Built by C's grandfather, lived in by her parents. Art is a house that tries to be haunted, said Emily Dickinson. What happens to all the lives that have passed through all those walls? I think of the sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth century walls of this small house. Our first feeling was of a sense of kindness hanging about it. And so we clothed its bones with our flesh and skin and filled it with our vital organs. Still in working order.
Tuesday, 26 July 2011
Hector Berlioz: La Damnation de Faust
Part of my reading round the concert tonight has taken me here, to Berlioz. Berlioz may be a ham, but what a magnificent ham! I only use the 'ham' term out of deference to my more pure minded friends to whom anything less pure than Bach or Mozart, or preferably even earlier, say Gabrieli, seems vulgar. Come to think of it, I am not sure I do have friends as pure as that, but have met with the temperament and think it well lodged at the intellectual heart of the English tradition.
Not that I don't want some of that purity myself - Schubert's Lieder is something I would never wish to be without, and Bach and Mozart are geniuses beyond all doubt. And Tallis is ravishing. But I want to make room for the romantic, or rather the Romantic.
This is Faust being carried off towards hell. It's a mighty gallop, past skeletons and strange birds, and it's all there in the music. The Romantic period is, surely, literary, in that both visual art and music constantly refer to literature, and primarily to poetry. This Faust is Goethe's, as picked up by Schubert, Liszt and Gounod as well as Berlioz. Never mind whether it is Faust or Prometheus or Milton's Satan, or Los in Blake, the point is the breaking of chains, the dive into the unknown.
You can do this in visual art by way of John Martin or Paul Girodet, but better go by Gericault, or Delacroix, through whom you can go directly to Faust.
Berlioz's Faust is much like his Grande Messe des Mortes (YouTube link here) in texture and mood. That Lacrymosa first blasted me about twenty years ago.
But you can quite see how Wagner's gesamtkunstwerk came about. It was practically all there already. And you can argue that Berlioz is a bad example of early stadium rock. (Pipe down there, old man, can't you?) You, meaning those who might so argue, can argue all that, but it still turns my legs to chocolate.
And while at it, you can find Boris Christoff's Mephisto singing about the Golden Calf here.
Damn big noises all. None silent but, when not in heaven, all damned.
Monday, 25 July 2011
The Springfields: island of Dreams (1963)
It's lunchtime. C is down in Hitchin with her sister trying to sort through the parental house. I pop down to the cafe on the corner and decide to tuck into comfort food. Spicy mince, mash and greens. It's just like school, only tasty. Not wonderfully, gorgeously tasty, but sort of middle, respectable working-class tasty. It's cheap and it's a generous helping and I have a pot of tea on the table. I contemplate the sweets board which is always the same, including spotted dick and jam roly-poly. I quite like such places. In particular I like this one.
The woman who serves me looks tough but she calls me 'dear' now. I call her 'love'. 'Be with you in a minute, dear.' 'No problem, love.'
And she puts on the same late fifties /early sixties music that is always playing there. We begin with Cliff Richard (Summer Holiday), move on to Roy Orbison (Only the Lonely), which moves me now as it never did when it first came out. There follow The Shadows. And then, strangely startling, The Springfields and 'Island of Dreams'. It's Dusty and the two boys in faintly Country and Western mode. It startles because it is one of my early pop memories and I haven't heard it for a very long time. I liked it very much back in early 1963 when I was fourteen. And I fell in love with Dusty to the extent of writing her name in black ink on a school desk. The hair? Oh, quite natural for the period. Like wearing a hair drier instead of hair. My mother had the same in black. She was just thirty-nine then.
The song is still haunting. And, damn it all, it does take me back to Norway, despite my best intentions. Whatever it is that is poignant about memory, a little of it is lodged in this song, especially that middle break when Dusty sings alone. High in the sky, there's a bird on the wing / Please carry me with you.
Tomorrow down to London to do another proms spot, this time for TV. [Puts on his Hungarian face.]
Sunday, 24 July 2011
It is not so much Anders Behring Breivik's ideas, banal enough in themselves, to which there is a link on a Comment is Free as a reader's contribution, as the elephantine text extending to 777,724 words. I won't link directly to it since the sheer verbiage will slow down your computer and possibly fall right through your desk. I have tried to have a brief look - he spends some time on literature and postmodernism etc, while concentrating primarily on 'political correctness' - but any person so obsessed by an idea as to have it swell up to this size and then act on it is a maniac of some sort.
I have quoted Auden before on big numbers and small numbers, as here:
Numbers and Faces
Lovers of small number go benignly potty,
Believe all tales are thirteen chapters long,
Have animal doubles, carry pentagrams,
Are Millerites, Baconians, Flat-Earth-Men.
Lovers of big numbers go horridly mad,
Would have the Swiss abolished, all of us
Well purged, somatotyped, baptized, taught baseball:
They empty bars, spoil parties, run for Congress.
Breivik is one of those semi-intelligent people who are actually more stupid than any genuinely stupid person. Vastly overestimating semi-intelligence is not only stupid but worse. It is blind, arrogant, and always malevolent in effect. There is deadly danger in being obsessed by one's own importance or the importance of one's ideas: the two are almost the same thing. This madman doesn't run for Congress: he kills over ninety people. Deliberately. Each one face to face, body to body. Big numbers again, all made up of single units. One and one and one. They are mostly very young people and their loss is audible all over the world. All those remaining single ones in shock, in tears, in despair. It is arrogance that has cancelled out their ones and substituted one enormous number of its own: 777,724.
Hard to know what to do with such thoughts. The world is no different today from what it was yesterday or the day before. Leaves move in the breeze. The sun is quietly going down. The cat steals a biscuit from the table. The visitors set off elsewhere. The fingers move over the keyboard. The flowers in the small yard hold their brilliant own.
Saturday, 23 July 2011
As expected The Guardian has its little snigger at middle aged white poets and at the end quotes a trustee as saying: "I feel I will be well shot of it. Quite a lot of poets seem to be rather bloody unbalanced." I wonder if they extend the same snigger to both Houses of Parliament and much of the press? I say, 'as expected', but actually the snigger - very much a white middle-class snigger come to think of it, in fact bang on white middle-class - is exactly what I expect of The Guardian now.
It is as well to point out that neither the Director, Judith Palmer, nor the Acting Chair, Laura Bamford is a poet, and that of the board members present on the platform only two were poets. This fearful cockup was the product of that entire board.
I for my part as a fully paid up part-Anglicised, part-Hungarian member of the nondescript classes think the board was bloody unbalanced and I personally am very glad to be shot of it.
Friday, 22 July 2011
As I understand it:
1. That the Board - and most particularly the Director and the staff, according to the Chair - had done wonderfully well, working day and night, to get the Poetry Society its improved grants;
2. That the board thanked the Director and then put her into a position in which she had no option but to resign;
3. That the board did this because it considered she was under stress. They improved the stress by putting her in this position;
4. The underlying reason for this was unmanageable stress between the Director and the editor of Poetry Review;
5. That the editor wanted to change her job description in that she wanted to spend less time on the premises and to report directly to the board rather than to the Director. However the Director's job description included being the route of communication between the Board and the editor and that, furthermore, this responsibility was a legal obligation under the terms of her contract, and that to change this would mean a change in her job description, a change that required certain procedures that were, as I understand it, not followed;
6. That, according to the Chair, there wasn't a grievance procedure under way so no proper grievance procedure could be followed (was there then a grievance? and if not what's the problem?);
7. That the then Chair and Vice-Chair of the board informed the Board that there was no time to discuss this problem so asked to be entrusted with whatever action they took;
8. That the action they took was to accept the changes in job descriptions without due procedure and without the consent of the Director, who was simply presented with the changes, and then, naturally enough, resigned;
9. That the Director suggesting that this might be a case of constructive dismissal and therefore for legal action (she threatened legal action, they said) the Trustees ran to Harbottle & Lewis (by coincidence Rupert Murdoch's lawyers, in other words not the cheapest, who have so far charged them about £24K, and to Colman Getty, who have so far charged about £3K);
10. There was no threat in writing of legal action on the grounds of constructive dismissal and so far no action has been initiated;
11. That there were many organisations offering free advice on such matters to charitable bodies but the Trustees were not aware of these and they were not consulted;
12. That one reasonable course of action might have been to consult ACAS. The Trades Union person who advised this also thought that there was in fact an unusually strong case for constructive dismissal;
13. That in the meantime, at various times, the President, the Vice-President, the Finance Director, the Chair and a member of the Board had also resigned;
14. That in the meantime the Poetry Society had embargoed the Director, forbidding her from entering the premises, disconnecting her email etc, in other words they clearly worried about something;
15. That there was some exchange of emails between the then Chair and the previous Chair threatening the previous Chair with legal action for having had communication with the departed (or departing) Director. This was a perfectly proper course for the Director to take, however. That was before the then Chair resigned;
16. That according to the Finance Director, who has resigned but has worked out his term, the Poetry Society's finances are far from secure and there has been correspondence between the bank and the Society regarding overdraft facilities and the value of the Society building, which he found worrying;
17. That, though the Arts Council had increased the grant of the Society, that grant was conditional and that some of the regular grant has been held back until the Society fulfils those conditions;
18. That those conditions have not so far been fulfilled.
These were, I think, the main points to be discovered. If I am wrong, my apologies in advance. Then there was a vote of no confidence by poll that was carried by a majority of somewhere round 6:1.
It is important to stress that the Board, in anticipation of this, had announced that they had brought forward the date of their next meeting to September at which point they would resign, and would be replaced by a new Board that would be elected by due procedure, which was a legal requirement. They were, at the end of the meeting, pressed to accept three new people onto the board until that time. Four volunteered. It is, procedurally, up to the Board to select the three they want until September, and that this is what they will now proceed to do. At this point the meeting closed.
This left some questions unanswered, chiefly:
How the Trustees had got themselves into this situation when there were procedures they could have followed? They seem to have been in a huge hurry straight after the announcement of the Arts Council decisions, to the extent that they permitted matters to get to this stage. What pressure were they under?
Why they were ignorant of cheaper or free legal advice?
What is to happen to the Director who has said - so it was reported by certain members at the meeting - that she would be happy to return? The Board will say no more that they are in discussions with her, which suggests that it is the Board that is the obstacle.
If these discussions are not concluded satisfactorily within a suitable time frame and the Director is not back in her job does she still have a case for constructive dismissal, and if so, how much money will that cost the Society? Should it win? Should it lose? It may be that the Trustees are hoping that sufficient time will elapse between the resignation and a decision regarding the case for constructive dismissal on the Director's part, to nullify the possible case, since there is a certain period within which a case has to be started. It may be so.
What is to be done to ensure that procedures are clear and will be followed in the future?
What happens regarding the Arts Council and its conditions regarding the grant?
What is the likely state of the Poetry Society's finances in the immediate future?
My personal feeling - I know nothing of the position of the editor and have not been consulted or lobbied by anyone speaking for her, and in fact hold her in the highest regard as both editor and poet - is that the Director has been shockingly treated and in a manner that endangers the future of the Poetry Society. It may be the Editor has dissatisfactions but I know nothing of those. They have not been made public and she remains Editor, now in perpetuity.
I was asked to stand as an interim board member and, reluctantly, I agreed. In the event I was not called on, for which I am grateful. I wish the Poetry Society well, since the Society is not this or that Board of Trustees. I wish it better communication, better publicity, and better relations generally. It is vital that the Poetry Society survive, especially since one of the two institutional legs on which poetry stands has already been shot away. Which might be just one reason why the Arts Council too might want it to survive. Shooting itself in the foot has not however helped the National Poetry Society.
I reveal all this because it was declared an open meeting and because minutes will be circulated to Members. Nobody said any of this was confidential. I can't remember how many decades I have been a member, but certainly some.
Considering events in Norway today this affair seems pettier than ever in personal and institutional terms. How thoroughly depressing it all is.
Important update: I strongly advise those interested to read what Jane Holland has to say of the same meeting.
An all purpose post. Yesterday we went down to the Royal Academy exhibition, Eyewitness, for which I had written one of the three essays, and in which some of my poems are displayed or quoted. Colin Ford, the curator of the exhibition and the writer of one of the other essays, met us for lunch and showed us round. There is a poetry reading planned for 2 September in association with the exhibition with Timothy West, Prunella Scales, myself and another actor (not sure who yet) and we sat down with the organiser of the event, Pele Cox, who turns out to have been a close friend of Steve and Trezza's in the late nineties. She asked about them and the news came as a terrible shock.
The exhibition itself is marvellous in its selection and layout. I couldn't see it before because I was away so much but will certainly see it again. André Kertész is clearly the greatest master among them, but Marton Munkácsi shows up very well too, not to mention Capa. But all the photographs hold their own. It must be galling for the right wing press that all the top four figures in the exhibition were Jewish.
Which takes me on to the concert with András Schiff playing Bartók's Third Piano Concerto. But first to the BBC Prom Plus talk with Malcolm Gillies and Louise Fryer at the Royal College of Music. This was one of my most frightening gigs since my knowledge of music is next to nothing. Malcolm G however knows everything there is to know about Bartók, having written extensively about him, being the leading authority on the subject. I wasn't sure what my function was likely to be, apart from a bit of background babble on Hungarian history and some ideas on exile - matters that could have been dealt with by Malcolm alone, he being a naturally entertaining speaker. But I hobbled through on one wing and several prayers, just about avoiding answering each question with 'Ask Malcolm'. The poor editor, Ellie, was left with the job of cutting our forty-five minutes down to twenty-one and she got straight on the job as soon as we had finished because the programme had to go on air in the concert interval. I mean it has already gone out, and I am half dreading listening to it on BBCi (but I will.)
I should say we arrived at the RCM through a tropical downpour so our legs and shoes were soaked through. It had, thankfully, stopped raining by the time we ran over the road to the Albert Hall. Very nice to be in BBC reserved seats, and next to Malcolm again. The programme is here. The first Sibelius I could take or leave, a bit amorphous and slighty colourless. I'd have liked it with a bit more ketchup really (in music I am a vulgarian with little or no sense of refinement - well, OK, some minimal refinement), the second, the 7th was more stirring, all horns and brass and freezing forests with steely-eyed huntsmen desiring independence. Grand and monumental. Much more bracing.
After the interval it was Schiff and the Bartók. I can leave the ketchup off Bartók but, being the Hungarian Vulgarian I am, I do sometimes want more paprika and goose fat than I am likely to get in a perfectly-laid five star restaurant, or, as is sometimes likely in England, plain fare in an elegiac Brief Encounter railway buffet. Schiff did it beautifully and better, more lingering and lyrical, but when the big tunes - because there are big tunes in this very late work - come in, proper chunes as Joyce might have called a good melody line, especially with those marked rhythms and syncopations, with appropriate thunder, I was moved to tears. I know Malcolm has reservations about the retrograde, possibly pot-boiling nature of the 3rd and I could see what he meant, but, as I confessed to him, there are times one can't help being Hungarian. The fact is a real musicologist can't take me anywhere classy. Ketchup on the floor, a blob of goose fat on the table cloth. I hardly dare speak English in decent places. Schiff is, of course, Jewish, and his letter in the Washington Post on 1 January, lamenting Hungary's presidency of the EU on grounds of racism, has made him very unpopular in parts of Hungary. As the first taxi driver in Budapest asked, 'What does Schiff want to go pissing on the country for?' The driver is a nice man in other respects but I will not be voting for the Taxi Drivers Alliance next election.
Which reminds me of Nicky Campbell's Radio 5 phone-in on Europe yesterday. Three anti-Europeans including Farage with one defender, maybe one-and-a-half, and at the end a female taxi-driver rings in. She wants out of the dictatorship of the Europeans regarding which the working class never had a vote (1975 doesn't count). It is a dictatorship that has changed everything for the worse, she says (Farage keeps praising and encouraging her, telling her she speaks for the great majority). Finally she gets on to the greatly put-upon English race. Race? queries Campbell. Farage keeps encouraging her. She means the people who live in England, he quickly adds. Or some such thing. And encourages her again. He declares he wants separate parliaments for England, Scotland, Wales and, possibly, Northern Ireland. A good platform for the United Kingdom Independence Party. Vote Farage, vote Taxi Driver and the English race.
Today the Poetry Society's Extraordinary General Meeting. Enough has been said elsewhere on this, but I will be there, hoping to be able to make some sense of events. First get the ship off the rocks.
Next Tuesday I do the Proms again, this time on telly. People's faith in me continues to astound me. They seem to have far more of it than I do. I know I am capable of a certain eloquence but remain deeply suspicious of it. Still, it is only a couple of minutes at a time on this one.
And Lucien Freud dead. More on that maybe.
Wednesday, 20 July 2011
Necessary moments of tranquility, rarely found. Vermeer painted only some forty pictures that we know and some of those are disputed. He was a Catholic artist in a Protestant country. I am not sure how much Protestantism allows for the visionary, the transfigurative. There is much to admire about Protestant humanity, honesty, plain speaking, and impatience with pretentious jiggery-pokery. Go to Rembrandt for the humanity. His sense of the divine is born of clay and human suffering. To Vermeer you go for something else. However ordinary his scenes appear they remain transfigurative. The question is what is being transfigured?
Time, for one thing. Vermeer offers us moments of such meditative concentration it seems a person could be quite lost in a simple action such as pouring a jug of milk. There are of course narrative elements that refer the viewer to sources beyond the scene, to other moments in time, but they are secondary. It is action that is transfigured into a form of grace. I call the concentration meditative, but it is not really clear that it is the subjects that are meditative: it is the meditativeness in the viewer that is invited to attend.
Here Vermeer has his favourite yellow-blue colour scheme. YOu'd pick him out anywhere just for that. He has his repoussoir table poking through the picture frame, as was often the case with Baroque painting. He has some Baroque tricks to do with light and composition - he is, after all, an artist of what art historians call the Baroque period - but he disdains Baroque drama. Nothing dramatic happens. Almost nothing happens. Except this pouring of milk. The rest is stories and pleasing the curious. Not just secondary, but tertiary, all but insignificant.
And when you get close to a Vermeer in real life, not in a reproduction, but the actual thing, you note his miraculous way with paint, a paint that is almost drops of pearl, pearl you can never quite focus. It defines then quietly rejects definition. It is mid-way between paint and depiction, that midpoint transformed into a way of seeing. And maybe that is where the transfiguration lies. It is another form of epiphany, the point at which the transcendent appears. Or we call it the transcendent. Or just 'our sense of the transcendent', because you can argue theology, for religion or against religion, as much as you like, we still have a sense of the epiphanic and recognise it when it presents itself: dramatically silent, focused, tranquil.
Tuesday, 19 July 2011
In the poem Nautilus there are these lines:
I couldn’t keep my eyes off the older
woman’s face, as if I were its only beholder,
its sad crumpled beauty, its cabinet
of curiosities. I can scarcely believe my own.
Or yours, how the whole structure is maintained
and holds firm....
Indeed I couldn't. Faces have always bewitched me, older rather than younger faces on the whole. Younger faces are prettier, have charm, have the great pathos of promise, are healthy and full of potential vigour. Some are beautiful and one could love them or imagine loving them. It is just that they are unfinished, waiting to be filled with time.
I am talking chiefly of female faces, though male faces no doubt have similar qualities, but I am for all intents and purposes a heterosexual man and it is women's faces that have imposed themselves on me - it is from the female face I seek response and am delighted when I find it.
Beauty is a hard master. It seems to be an early visitor who stays a while then goes. It arrives in mid-morning, stays for a wonderful lunch, but by mid-afternoon it is looking at its watch. As the song goes, Sometimes it's hard to be a woman, and it's not just because of giving all your love to just one man. The premium on beauty is too high, and the kind of beauty that has the highest street value is necessarily brief. Beauty in men, it seems to me, is somehow tied in with the concept of experience so the boy with the beautiful face is not yet a full being. But the beautiful face of a young woman is taken to be at full.
No doubt that is partly cultural, but we are inside culture not outside it so can never really know. But the woman whose face I was so taken with still carried the memory of lunch and early afternoon. And it would have been a good lunch I thought, and maybe an even better afternoon. Her face was no longer the half-abstract emblem of Beauty but a human face, a point of history caught and traversed. It had seen things and done things, and was vulnerable but still giving out light. And light is what most men want from most women.
A friend sent an old photograph from the early seventies of me via Facebook. 'Doesn't he look handsome....;-)' he writes. It's very strange. The face does look handsome in its way, but it never felt handsome then, nor does the present one now. At not one present moment would it ever have felt handsome. It was always unsatisfactory. More than that, it was always half invisible. I mean quite literally half-invisible since a mirror only shows the viewer half. You could mess around with two mirrors, but getting the sense of that face as a presence would still be difficult. I could never manage it. So every time I see a recent photo it's a bit of a shock, especially when it is taken by someone else when I am unaware. Is that object in space really me?
That object in space is certainly ageing. Not dreadfully. Not dramatically. Most would say it was doing pretty well on the various registers of age. But for me it is impossible. My head is an object in space. Like the moon it has a dark side. It has never been quite comfortable with itself. It has sometimes to check it's still there, that it looks as it expects to look, the same fleeting mask. It is not vanity but apprehension looking back, scrutinising itself. And a kind of disbelief. Not as honest a disbelief as Rembrandt's, not as accepting, but at least it knows what Rembrandt was talking about. That particular object in space looking at itself.
Monday, 18 July 2011
The first death. And the two cops gone down. This story certainly knows how to spiral.
You wonder how ordinary people can become so used to a course of action that they stop noticing it is a sordid crime.
Everything becomes normal if everyone does it for long enough. There is no need to go through the whole psychological process from A to Z: you just think A and Z appears. And there is a thrill in the pace and effectiveness of it all that cancels out any faint remaining trace of the alphabet that first presented itself. There is no sense of guilt providing you keep going, only the exhilaration of the repeated act. There might even be the prospect of justification. You have to do all this to catch the guilty. Down these mean streets, etc.
And down could go Boris, and take Dave with him. Not that that would be cause for long term rejoicing because government instability in a financial crisis still playing itself out is not going to improve matters. But then these things have their own momentum.
Late this morning a neighbour called round asking me to help him lift something in the kitchen. They have fly paper hanging from the ceiling, with a fair few dead flies stuck to it. 'It was some time before we caught the first fly, but the rest quickly followed. Must be a social thing,' he said.
Sunday, 17 July 2011
Zubin Mehta conducting Bayerische Staatsoper Bayerisches Staatsorchester (National Theatre Munich)
'I know of some, and have heard of many, who could not sleep after it, but cried the night away. I feel strongly out of place here," Mark Twain wrote, having just sat through Wagner's Tristan und Isolde. "Sometimes," he added, "I feel like the one sane person in the community of the mad." Twain's amazement at the emotions aroused by Wagner's feverish study of adulterous passion is substantiated by accounts of similar goings-on at other early performances. The French composer Emmanuel Chabrier heard it in Munich in 1880 and broke down during the prelude, sobbing uncontrollably. Another composer, Guillaume Lekeu passed out during a performance at Bayreuth. In 1886, the novelist Catulle Mendes - a fervent Wagnerite whose ex-wife Judith Gautier had been the composer's last mistress - issued a health warning: "One has to keep one's distance from this work - or, conquered, suffer with it as much as he who wrote it."
Delirium accompanied Tristan from the beginning, and still does. Wagner, working on the score in 1858, thought he was unleashing on the world "something fearful" that could lead to derangement, and wrote hysterically that "only mediocre performances can save me! Completely good ones are bound to drive people mad!"
- Tim Ashley, The Guardian, Fri 13 October, 2000
Down in London again today. Down again on 21st, first BBC radio prom appearance in discussion. The Eyewitness exhibition first. 22nd it is the NPS EGM. Then proms and telly on 26th.
Other things - all too many things - in between. Unlike Twain I sometimes think I am the only mad person in the community of the sane. It's probably the Tristan chord to blame.
Saturday, 16 July 2011
The text is:
The News of the World was in the business of holding others to account. It failed when it came to itself.
We are sorry for the serious wrongdoing that occurred.
We are deeply sorry for the hurt suffered by the individuals affected.
We regret not acting faster to sort things out.
I realise that simply apologising is not enough.
Our business was founded on the idea that a free and open press should be a positive force in society. We need to live up to this.
In the coming days, as we take further concrete steps to resolve these issues and make amends for the damage they have caused, you will hear more from us.
Interesting phrasing, as many others will have noted (you can't help but note it in a message as short and yet in such large type as this): the passive of 'wrongdoing that has occurred'; and the use of 'we' throughout but for the one sentence, 'I realize that simply apologising is not enough.' In other words, someone has committed a crime (not me), and I realise that apologising for that crime (whoever committed it, not me) is not enough. Heads (quick, find some more) must roll.
The collapse has been sudden and spectacular. Just a few days ago, when most of that which is now known was already known, there was defiance from News International, but yesterday Rebekah Brooks resigned, and now this. It suggests there is much worse waiting in the wings and that new pressure has been applied, possibly by the USA, a pressure that threatens the whole empire.
Of course News International would not have done this unless Murdoch thought they could sell more papers, as indeed they would have, had they found anything to print.
The distinction between private and public has long been blurred. From reality show, through misery memoir, through Jeremy Kyledom, voluntary or involuntary exposure or self-exposure has been daily fare. Warhol was right. What we want is fifteen minutes of spectacular exposure. The TV camera shoved into the face of someone whose tears have just started running. It is amplified, short-term drama. It is the troughs and peaks, the sharply edited highlights, not the subtleties and complexities muddling the action between them that interest us. It is the dualistic world of light and dark and good and evil, those moments when one or other is revealed and turned into a clear image that strikes home.
Nor is it a difference in temper - equivalents of the gallows, the stocks, and the ducking-stool have been public entertainment for as long as humankind has existed - but a difference in ubiquity, gloss, and self-awareness.
It's not surprising Murdoch and others should take to tapping phones. There might even have been an occasional genuine public-interest exposé waiting to be splashed across the front page. But even now there are certain borders of grief that are regarded as private. They are crossed - people cannot help but cross them sometimes, they will and do cross them - with a great deal of nervousness and guilt. It is not just grief but the very borders of self, the integrity of the self, that appears most vulnerable. Hurting the vulnerable still hurts us. The evil remains an evil in that light, at that point.
In due course though most people get over that and read on. For now there are laws against what Murdoch did and what I suspect others have done. More will carry on doing it.
Not while the empire is falling though, and not in the same way. And so read on.
Partly lack of time, partly uncertainty about my own feeling on some subjects, so an interval, possibly a lucid interval, if such a thing exists.
Down the road in L's enormous and magnificent garden, with daughter, son-in-law, granddaughter, and son-in-law's parents who have come down for family visits. The man who mows the lawn - L wouldn't be able to do this by herself now - stops by for a cup of tea. He sells hard wood for burning. 'Only two more years left of it,' he says. 'Won't be no more after that. All used up. Don't know what we're going to heat with.'
Son-in-law, R, says he has been approached by three US TV channels wanting to make a reality show out of his book about Armageddon. Best get some practice maybe.
There is a full moon tonight. Out for supper and back late. Portends little sleep. What's that splendid Charles Cotton quatrain?
The drunkard now supinely snores
His load of ale sweats through his pores,
But when he wakes the swine shall find
A crapula remains behind.
That's just as remembered, unchecked. But one is not drunk, only imagining being drunk. One of the cats crying in the dark.
Monday, 11 July 2011
A quotation mark in space around the hollow
bones of the universe. A carousel spinning out of control.
You’re flung off to the bottom of a scroll
of dark where nobody can follow.
These metaphors for all that is outside you –
the vortices of the scary-beautiful –
look, they are inside you. You feel the pull
of your own heart as the universe rides you.
Those yellow flowers in that earthenware jug.
The spill of wind under eaves. Where are we?
Where are our co-ordinates? A fly dances
on a skim of air. It’s as if life were a drug
in the system. The universe spins free
of us. Here’s where we are. Here’s where we take our chances.
Chances, and several. The way sun dips across
a wall, the angle at which rain strikes a face.
Chance just has it so, that in one place
devastation, another the mourning of loss,
and here such happiness it fills a minute
for ever. I couldn’t keep my eyes off the older
woman’s face, as if I were its only beholder,
its sad crumpled beauty, its cabinet
of curiosities. I can scarcely believe my own.
Or yours, how the whole structure is maintained
and holds firm. Somehow we have gained
the world and are losing it in every bone
and cell, as if to chance. You eyes touch mine
in chance light, in perfection, as in rain.
Three times this week I have trodden on a shell
on the lower step when it was very dark
and I was too preoccupied to mark
the point at which it cracked before. The smell
of wet grass was gentle, intoxicating.
Clouds were bruises of thunder, the light mere spots
up ahead. Distinctions were lost in knots
of deeper or fainter black. My bed was waiting
for my mind to wind right down. Meanwhile at home
you lay in ours as if at the back of time
that too was waiting to draw and settle us
into its own bed. Like the snail in its brittle dome
it waited, and we rose next day to this rhyme
that swims out of the dark, this nautilus.
For Clarissa 11 July 2011 - Our forty-first anniversary. Poem begun at Lumb Bank.
Sunday, 10 July 2011
Parno Graszt is the Roma band we went to record and interview in this, their home village of Paszab in the north-east of Hungary, as recorded here.
And while we're at it, I haven't had any pictures or music for some time, so triple Parno Graszt and let's have done. So live with dancers:
And why not have a suitably frantic Tom and Jerry performing Parno Graszt:
The trick is to imagine nine of them in your kitchen, plus the rest of the family, some of them dancing. Call it World Music if you like.
Saturday, 9 July 2011
Good last day at Lumb, a mixture of tasks, talk and one game to end with. Then in the evening it's the students' reading in the barn. There have been significant improvements in many cases and a general sense of exhilaration. A few of us stay up till shortly before 1 am, including brave Jane whose taxi arrives at 6:45am the next morning. It's very good working with her - we complement each other, her sessions ever busy, buzzing out forms and tasks and ways of going about things, mine more, though not entirely, discursive. Talking and doing. A lot of material is generated and discussed in individual tutorials, and then the ideas that arise can be discussed here and there.
When I consider the last month or so I am surprised to be feeling as well as this, but imagine I will slump somewhat tonight and tomorrow. One of the mature students was talking about breathing last night, breathing primarily as a treatment for asthma. About belly breathing and breathing into your sides. One should never breathe through one's mouth. Our dance student corroborated this as regards dancing. It was fascinating. I don't think I have ever thought much about breathing. It's as natural as breathing, people say. Well, it appears not. Breathing cured the older student's acute asthma - he was living proof. So we learn.
There is an outside world, of course, where empires tremble and a 168-year old paper crumbles. I have never minded appearing on CCtv, and frankly, I don't much worry about some of my data being in the public domain, but this particular scandal, with the tapping of the Dowler family and the family of the Soham girls has an air of particularly repulsive depravity, not a word I use much. I don't mean it is evil in the full eschatological sense, but there is something skunk-like, ratty, undermining about it, something chewing away at the social fabric. It reminds me of the night I spent in Tucson AZ, in the dead man's room. The smell of death was slight, insidious, pervasive, perfectly physical. I hardly slept.
Friday, 8 July 2011
Now we are looking at tensions, binaries, dual themes, then we think about rhyme and half rhyme and off rhyme and vowel rhyme and consonantal rhyme via Bill Herbert, and each time we write something; then we think of pushing small personal events up against large events. We move fast, more process than product, the product waiting to be developed. I do all Jane's exercises and perhaps something emerges out of one or two.
Then it's lunch and the eight tutorials, after which (about 5pm) I return to my room where I fall asleep for half an hour. I wake to thick rain and proper thunder, the sky rolling. I am aware the News of The World is closing down. Criminality, corruption, scandal. Whether this means the Murdoch empire is shaken to its foundations - I doubt it. Not yet, but who knows about the rest of the Murdoch press? The Arab Spring is succeeded by the Australian Spring.
Outside, the rain crashes down, Judgment Day-style, so even though my waterproof is effective my legs are soaking in the walk across to the main building. There's a pace to these courses. The cautious first step, the pushing out of the boat on the first morning, the slightly awkward tutors' reading the first night, the ripples widening the next day and the welcome to the guest reader who is Poet Pure rather than Tutor Poet. By the third day discoveries have been made and there is genuine exhilaration, though I generally hit a small psychological wall between days three and four. Then the fourth night with its readings from other poets. Tonight I play the piano after that is over. The piano jangles and is slightly out of tune, but then so is my playing.
I am rather astonished that at sixty-two I still have the stamina after three successive festival-conferences and week in Budapest running around doing interviews and getting robbed, having had no more than three or so full days at home in a month. But I do - when 'on stage'. Off stage there are waves of exhaustion. But then I have been almst continually on stage for a month.
Time falls away. There is a great deal to do waiting at home. Each new poem is a Rest on the Flight, but that is how it has always been.
Wednesday, 6 July 2011
My morning. I start with an exercise from Dennis O'Driscoll, based on his poem 'Towards a Cesare Pavese Title' that rewrites one line fourteen different ways, taking all kinds of liberties. We discuss what happens, then I give them a new line and everyone gets busy writing their variations. At the end we do a lightning quick few rounds with one line from each person at a time, so at the end we are in a kind of vortex spinning round the original line.
Next I take out my various sheets including propositions about poetry, ideas about sound, ideas about thinking of poems in terms of other arts. This is a good hour long discussion, then I move to the main item, a study of pronouns, using three or four poems employing the figure 'I' as examples. Having looked at them I ask everyone to write down in prose of some hundred words or so, one memorable or significant incident either in their lives or in someone else's. They then fold their sheets up and put them into a bowl. I mix them up then hand out an incident to each person. I tell them I shall repeat this process twice more, so by the end they will have seen three different incidents, none of them their own. They are going to write a short poem for each. Task is two fold:
1. People must use the you form in one poem, the he / she for in another, and a proper name in the third.
2. One poem is in free verse, one in an epigrammatic quatrain(s) form, and the third a prose poem.
It's important to take possession of the incident, seize its potential and to be ruthless with it. If they don't like a part of an incident, forget it. If they want to add something, then add.
I have never set this before and to my great relief it works very well.
Miscellaneous things in between and at the end, where just for light relief I read William Carlos Williams's famous poem about eating the plums in the ice box, and follow it with Menneth Koch's marvellous four parodies. I like a lightness of spirit in these sessions. It absolves people of responsibility and tension, and frees the imagination. Laughter is far more important, especially in serious matters, than we generally realise.
All this time there is a strange little white cat out in the rain pleading to be let in. We understand it is not very popular at the centre because of allergies 'and other things'. But eventually it gets in and makes itself at home. It hovers round the place the rest of the day.
In the afternoon the tutorials, eight of them, good things, students more relaxed now, more able to talk about work in hand, more able to listen too.
Jane and I talk about the crisis at the Poetry Society among other things then I return to my room to rest and wait for Michael Symmons Roberts who is the guest reader.
Michael arrives half way through supper having sped away from a meeting. The reading is in the barn. He reads from his various books, though not his collaboration with Paul Farley, Edgelands, since this is a poetry course, but conversation does get round to Edgelands afterwards.
Michael is of course very good: a fine visionary poet he is also an immediately sympathetic figure the students feel comfortable with. After people go, Michael and I are left in the barn. As we chat a bat flitters round and round, quite close to our heads. It's good to see a bat. I have a sense of them as lucky creatures.
Once I get back to the tutors' house the white cat reappears and, the door having a cat flap, follows me in, doing its plaintive best to enter my room. That's not going to happen.
A white cat and a black bat. Nice conjunction.
I haven't forgotten about the world outside with its crises and causes, but relatively little gets into the head here. Too many other things to think about.
Tuesday, 5 July 2011
Jane's morning here and she takes us through a series of exercises involving re-framing of material, either by stripping it down or by rearranging it. The exercises are precis and prescriptive with a certain built in flexibility. One of the poems we look at is D H Lawrence's Piano, in both its earlier, longer version and its later, better known shorter version.
This is that shorter version:
By D.H. Lawrence
Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;
Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see
A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings
And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.
In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside
And hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide.
So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour
With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour
Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast
Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.
And here's what preceded it:
The Piano [notebook version]
Somewhere beneath that piano's superb sleek black
Must hide my mother's piano, little and brown with the back
That stood close to the wall, and the front's faded silk, both torn
And the keys with little hollows, that my mother's fingers had worn.
Softly, in the shadows, a woman is singing to me
Quietly, through the years I have crept back to see
A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the shaking strings
Pressing the little poised feet of the mother who smiles as she sings
The full throated woman has chosen a winning, living song
And surely the heart that is in me must belong
To the old Sunday evenings, when darkness wandered outside
And hymns gleamed on our warm lips, as we watched mother's fingers glide
Or this is my sister at home in the old front room
Singing love's first surprised gladness, alone in the gloom.
She will start when she sees me, and blushing, spread out her hands
To cover my mouth's raillery, till I'm bound in her shame's heart-spun bands
A woman is singing me a wild Hungarian air
And her arms, and her bosom and the whole of her soul is bare
And the great black piano is clamouring as my mother's never could clamour
And the tunes of the past are devoured of this music's ravaging glamour.
It's not a poem I especially love, even in the shorter version,, though it features in I A Richards's classic Practical Criticism. We were asked to note the differences between earlier and later: how the sister disappears, how the wild Hungarian air vanishes leaving the piano appassionato, etc. A great deal has been ditched. But it's not just the ditching, or rather not so much the ditching as the refocusing; the discovery of what the source of excitement was. The music was about the child's sensations of pressing his mother's feet at the piano pedal. We could then go on to talk about the hidden erotic link between those feet and the wild glamorous singer, which, I think, powers the poem in the way a simple sentimental memory of being little might not. There is now something 'insidious' and talk about betrayal. The guilt is there. The search is for the compulsive.
Finding a Freudian reading does not solve the poem or vitiate its energy. The poem has problems of its own with overwriting and display but the realisation of those small hands on the woman's feet as they move up and down in the secret space under the piano retains a frisson, so the experience itself, as divorced from some the writing, is compulsive.
It is just that it might have been more compulsive still. Or is some of that Lawrence yammer, those over the top wrong notes, an aspect of that compulsion? Curioser.
Monday, 4 July 2011
It's about four and a half hours from W to Hebden Bridge and I spend half the time planning and the other half listening to Parno Graszt. There's a rather dangerous lyric that translates roughly as 'I am that old geezer's son / There's the long handled knife / And I'll cut you lot up and slice you into pieces'. Fortunately this did not transpire at Paszab, I am translating 'muki' as 'geezer'. Seems about right.
The third half was dozing.
Arrived about 2:30, settled into room, put stuff into wardrobe etc, then fellow tutor Jane Draycott arrives closely followed by the students. We go roud introducing ourselves several times over until we remember some names, then the managers hold their talk and I am whisked away to Hebden Bridge by Tony of publishers, Arc (Tony only vaguely related to Joan of Arc). By this time I am about two-thirds awake, but once there I am alert. Andras and Anna already there along with other poets (Hebden Bridge is inhabited solely by poets) and it's very nice and then we do the reading, Anna and Andras excellent with me chipping in with 5 minutes' worth. John Siddique buys me a Jamesons which is always a welcome offer. Back at Lumb they have saved me a meal that I heat in the microwave, then Jane and I talk in the tutors' house and now it's just gone 11pm.
It has been a hot day but the future is all rain and thunder. Thunder is fine by me but constant rain is - well - a bit of a dampener. But alle is gut. Tout va bien. Eddig minden rendben van. So far so good.
Sunday, 3 July 2011
I'm not sure whether this was my third or fourth visit to Ledbury Poetry Festival, the third, I think. The visits have been spread over a number of years and this time my task was to chair two events, the first with two young Hungarian poets András Gerevich and Anna T Szabó, the other with the three NPS Competition Prize winners, Paul Adrian, Jo Haslam and Matthew Sweeney.
If anyone asked for the archetypal picturesque English town, Ledbury would be a perfect answer. It is all beams and alleys and bookshops and markets and cafes and arts and crafts shops. It is so picturesque it feels almost dreamlike, a little like Portmeirion in Wales, where The Prisoner was filmed, but without the classical parodies and eclectic detail. I don't mean it is claustrophobic or scary, far from it, it is just that it's oddly paradisal, as if reality were just pitched up a degree, Somewhere, in an upstairs room, I'd expect to find the magic saucepan where you coould smell what everyone in town was cooking.
The festival is, needless to say, compact, but very efficient and enthusiastic. In the performers' green room there is a constant supply of sandwiches, cakes and drinks. The performance space, Burgage Hall, is almost directly opposite and the ticket office just on the corner. In the green room you bump into Penelope Shuttle and Bill Herbert and Brian Turner or Bernard O'Donoghue or Zoë Skoulding or Neil Astley, Indian poets Mohan Rana or Sampurna Chatterji, Syrian Maram al-Massri etc etc. and plenty to come after us.
We did our Hungarian gig to a packed hall and sold a lot of books. Both András and Anna are comfortable with English. They read a few in Hungarian and the translations were shared around various readers including myself. The New Order anthology has a political framework but the poems are not political. It wasn't poems about politics I was looking for, nor would Hungarian poets have been overjoyed to have their noses pressed back up to politics, pre-1989 style - it was the politics of everyday social and intimate life that I thought might be fascinating, those things we hardly ever refer to as politics, but which change when political circumstances change, especially as drastically as they did in 1989. The voice unconsciously modulates and explores the new acoustics life has offered it. Politics and social life as acoustics.
Anna and András will be at Hebden Bridge tomorrow so I can introduce them all over again. We also went to the Being Human reading with Neil Astley and Penny Shuttle - another very packed hall, then at 6:30 to Mohan Rana and Bernard O'Donoghue. Slightly less packed but maybe at an awkward time and up against song performers, The Wraiths.
At 8:30 a gathering for the cider supper, where I talk to Zoe S and spend some time chatting with Carol Ann who is there with daughter. We discuss the current Poetry Society crisis, which is part horror, part farce and does the public perception of poetry no good at all.
The next day to James Geary on Metaphor - a fascinating breeze through metaphor complete with juggling and gentle crowd participation. I call it a breeze simply because the subject is so complex that it's impossible to do more than breeze through it in layman's terms in the time available. Neat.
We dropped into Tinsmiths to catch sight of Nick Alexander's Talking Wall and even buy a picture and get back in time for the National Poetry Competition events, under the title, 'As Time Goes By'. Paul and Jo turned up in time and Matthew was already there. Me to introduce by talking about the competition then the three poets about ten minutes each, with me introducing their winning poems, then me last for ten minutes and some questions. Afterwards a little chat in the green room with our last host there, composer John Rushby-Smith, and eventually on the road.
By this time I am very tired and not safe on the road so C drove all the way back. Tomorrow she teaches and I get on the train again. To Lumb Bank this time, to teach a course with Jane Draycott.
Friday, 1 July 2011
The last day was links day. Rain. Humid and louring. We go to a number of the important locations and I record a sentence or so to hold the programme together. First thing we head up to the Fisherman's Bastion to catch a little old style gypsy violin in the background. The number 16 bus will take us to the heart of it. We shuffle along the ramparts until there is some musical background then I speak extempore but to a generally agreed point. Next, we look for a quiet cafe to record some more. Having wandered about half an hour we give up in the Bastion district and decide to go the Astoria in Pest instead. We wait for the 16 bus down into town and get on. I sit down in the row before the back next to Elizabeth. Others take their places. At one point I feel a light touch at my side and look around.
I should explain that I carry about a small folder full of necessary cards, a mobile phone and my passport. This bulks out my top pockets but have buttoned pockets at the side, three buttons per pocket so my wallet is in my left side pocket. That is where I feel the tap. Behind me sits a stone faced Japanese man. Two passengers, a girl and a thick set man, have changed places near our end. I feel for my wallet and it's not there. Of course I spend some time checking. The bus moves on. I look behind me. The stony faced Japanese man is behind man next to the thick-set man. Now what I should do is say something like: 'If you give my back my wallet I'll say nothing, otherwise I'm ringing the police right now.' Of course he will look puzzled and cross but might think the better of it and hand it over. It has my driving licence in it and an unusable debit card which has been cancelled because of the previously lost green bag. It has some cash too but not a huge amount. The driving licence and debit card would establish my ownership.
Yes, but I don't do this. I am temporarily dazed. And then all three get off at the next stop and my wallet is gone. I have no cash. I ring the hotel in case I have left the wallet there, and I tell Elizabeth and Martin. Inwardly I move from being shocked to shrugging, which is my default position at loss. I have been going to Hungary for twenty-seven years and have never lost anything or had anything stolen. Now twice in a week. When I found my green bag - and I rang the kind man who handed it over in Nyiregyháza - the girls in the hotel remarked that I had had some bad news and some good news. Yes, I replied, but the good news was even better because it came after bad news. Now it was bad news time again.
But work must go on. We record links of trams, we get metro noise, we go to the Astoria for more recording and have lunch there. And I am joking - we are all joking - about the lost wallet. I am, seriously, being encouraged to sound jaunty and excited about nearing the end of my personal 'quest' for the truth about gypsy music. I should put a smile in my voice. I am especially excited, I quip, because I have lost my wallet and have no money. I am even more excited because I am riding in real police car to a proper Budapest police station. I have never been so excited in my life because I am to be charged with bumming rides on public transport and am positively gleeful because I am being arrested. My voice is full of smiles.
Of course I don't go to the police, because there is no time, and we go to the last link in front of the Liszt Music Academy, where I do a personal link (when I was still a child in Budapest our block faced the Academy and there are photo to prove it) and to do a quick summing up. I write the later links for myself as I was getting annoyed with ad libbing to an unwritten script. This works rather better, psychologically at least.
Then we pile into the taxi just as thunder clouds build and arrive at the airport under the full dark anvil. Something on or in me sets off the security alarm so I undergo a more detailed examination. Hands up. Turn. Sit down. Take off your socks. Blah blah.
At Gatwick Elizabeth lends me £50 so I can get home. Wonderful C meets me at the station shortly before midnight. I get home. It's gone midnight.
Drama throughout the Hungarian venture. We catch the last evening express, arriving in Budapest at 10:30. The next morning we return to Peter Szuhay to finish our conversation. This time it's even better. Like everyone else he grows warm and animated (its the paprika in the blood) and ever more interesting, full of detail while offering an ever wider perspective. From him we head over to the old Communist Party HQ, known jocularly as the White House, to interview the Roma MP, Agnes Osztokay. The White House appears in Tibor Fischer's first novel, Under the Frog, as a dare that a member of the basketball team has to fulfil by running right round it naked.
It is by the side of the Danube near Margaret Bridge and is dense with security. We had to have our passports or other photographic ID and even so it took two of use some fifteen minutes to get through the sour, humourless men at the desk, who could have been there since the days of Stalin. Martin has left his passport at the hotel so there is extra fuss calling the MP down as guarantor. The building houses the private offices of sitting MPs and Osztolykan is the first female Roma MP to be elected. She is a young petite woman with beautifully fine features, dark skinned, almost Indian looking, and maybe a little older than she looks. She is kind, sophisticated, dressed quietly and elegantly, in MP mode. She too answers the questions clearly then grows warmer as we progress, and says something about her own home village, not far from Paszab, where her intelligence was spotted early by a teacher who then persuaded her tough father that she should be sent to top Budapest school. Father eventually agrees, and she prospers. Everyone accepts here and she goes on to distinction at the university. She has just won an International Women of Courage Award. She talks of the condition of Roma (she uses the term 'Roma' with foreigners and the press but employs 'gypsy' in normal conversation in Hungary). There are opportunities she says, people need more education and we are trying to create opportunities. Unemployment is horrific and it isn't because people don't want work, it is because there isn't any. (I recall the talk at Paszab with the many-skilled man who is desperately looking for work wherever he can find it, perhaps in England.) Then we talk of the resistance to Roma and she grows solemn.
After a quick lunch we move to the Opera House where we have arranged to meet Márta Sebestyén, the iconic (I think I am justified, for once, in using that word) folk singer who traces her music back through Kodály and Bartók. We get text messages that she is just returning from Pécs in the south of the country, exhausted, but is in a taxi. Then the taxi is stuck in a traffic jam. We sit on the steps of the Opera. Opposite, sitting by the wall of the Underground entrance, is a young well-dressed woman with a well-dressed, well-behaved pretty child in her lap. The little girl sits there peacefully, like any middle class primary school pupil. She has a metal begging cup in front of her. The mother can't be that poor, surely! Eventually I drop my spare change into her cup. She looks up, tired. It begins to rain. She looks annoyed, gets up and moves on. The next day we meet her on the steps of the Metro at Astoria. She now has a notice saying: I am sick and have no money.
Sebestyén is about half an hour late now and the rain is growing heavier. We sit down in the cafe by the Opera, at a table under the awnings. It's rush hour and the traffic is very loud. The she appears on the other side of the main road and works her way across. I have met her before though she won't remember. We were both picking up medals at the Barbican. We didn't talk then. I didn't know what to say to her. She looks well. She is dressed up and fully prepared for a banquet with the prime minister at 7. It is now 5:45. We go into the cafe where a slightly surly waiter agrees to turn down the piped music, and start talking. Her face is lovely and animated, with a sweet sharp little mouth, like the silent movie actor, Harry Langdon. She immediately throws herself into the conversation, her eyes flashing. She tells us of her background and her dislike of urban restaurant gypsy music, which seems fake, tired and servile to her. She talks about the alternative Transylvanian and village tradition, and her liking for gypsy music at source. Even when they play the same music as at the cafes. At about 6:40 I wonder about her banquet. 'Let's carry on talking tomorrow. Tomorrow I am free,' she says. We can't do that as we have a lot of links to record and must set off for the airport by 2:30. I love the fact she wants to carry on talking. She takes out a little pipe from her handbag. I never go anywhere without it, she says. She sings a few notes from her repertoire and compares it to the Chinese music she had just heard and sung in Beijing. Both pentatonic.
Then we are off. Next post for dramatic events of the last day.