Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Several concerts, several good meals and two deaths (RIP Marjorie Deschaux née Hirst and Paul Rogers)

Not yet scribbled anything about my break - ongoing, I don’t fly off until the day after tomorrow - break in South-West France to accompany my aunt to a few concerts.

To recap, this part of the world holds three classical music festivals every year, all (I think) with a slightly different theme. I arrived last Wednesday, and that night it was off to the Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte for a concert by Maxim Vengerov, except that the great man himself didn’t show. He was ill and couldn’t attend/wasn’t ill but couldn’t attend depending upon who you asked. His place Zorin (whose father Zachary helps to organise this particular festival) who played a Beethoven sonata for violin and piano (rather raggedly in my, admittedly, utterly untutored opinion, i.e. ignore what I have just said), then far more recent pieces by, I think - announcements were in French, of which I know less than I know Chinese - Ravel and a few of his contemporaries.

It was obvious, to me at least, that Zorin was far more at home in the jazzier style of early 20th-century French music than in classical early 19th-century German music. Trouble is, of course, that I know less than nothing about it and could well be talking balls. (Yanks: balls)

Then there were no more concerts until Monday night when we went to the smaller Chateau Gravas (which produces Sauternes) for a concert given by a double-bass player called Remy Yulzari and a guitarist called Nadav Lev. Maxim Zorin was also due to play with them, but he failed to show up until more or less towards the end and then played only two pieces as a trio before the concert closed. I have to say I preferred the music the two others played together before Zorin turned up.

Last night it was back to Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte for another concert of pieces for violin and piano, with a buxom Swiss redhead called Rachel Kolly d’Alba (pictured) on the fiddle and Marc Laforet on the joanna playing sonatas by
Debussy, Ravel and Franck and Franz Waxman’s Carmen Fantaisie, which I’m told is a popular concert favourite and very well known, which might explain why I’d never heard of it.

I liked the Ravel best, and thinking of all the other Ravel pieces I’ve heard, many of which I have on my iPod, I yet again laugh when you mention Ravel, everyone and his dog thinks of his Bolero (‘I’m not really one for serious music, but I do love what’s-his-name’s Bolero, you know, tum-ta-ta-ta-ta tum ta-ta-ta-ta, tum-ta-ta-ta-ta tum ta-ta-ta-ta, doooooooooo, do-do do-do do-do due do-do doooooooo, that’s probably not quite the tune, but you know the one I mean, they play it on Radio 2 quite a lot . . . I mean, who could think serious music could be so catchy?’).

Ironically, Ravel himself didn’t take it very seriously and is quoted as saying ‘I have written a masterpiece. Unfortunately, there is no music in it.’ (Incidentally, if I have just described you, the kind of chap or chappess who likes his or her serious music lite, there is a list of Ten Things You Never Knew About Ravel’s Bolero, inevitably in the Daily Mail. If all that makes me sound snobbish, tough titties. I suggest you listen to other pieces of Ravel, and it might well - with a bit of luck - stop you claiming Ravel is your ‘favourite classical composer’.)

Tonight it’s something or other somewhere or other and tomorrow its’ something else or other in Saint-Emilion (you’ll know the name from the wine department at your local superstore). BTW I just looked it up on Google Maps to see whether it was spelled St or Saint and, not for the first time, noticed the the city of Bordeaux is nowhere to be seen. Here are three screens of the map. Question: where’s Bordeaux?
Good Lord, it's disappeared

If you look really carefully, you'll see it's just left of Merignac

Bordeaux - but why not say so?

. . .

Been a couple of deaths recently.

My aunt was very good friends with a former colleague at Bordeaux University where they had both taught different aspect of English. I met her several times, five I think, as my aunt used to see her every Tuesday at her home in a suburb of Bordeaux after her gym class every Tuesday and they had lunch together somewhere or other, and I went with her whenever I was staying.

She was a very engaging Liverpudlian woman, ten years older than my aunt, who had married a French air force officer after the war and had lived in France ever since. I say Liverpudlian, but she was, in fact Scottish and very proud of it, but had grown up in Liverpool and there were still traces of Merseyside in her accent. Her health had been failing for years and she had very little energy, so the past few times I saw her, we only had a drink at her house. She was very fond of the Daily Mail, and because she could received BBC on her satellite TV, she was a great fan of Top Gear and Jeremy Clarkson.

She died a week ago last Monday and was cremated yesterday. My aunt then treated me to a very, very nice lunch at a place called Le Chalet Lyrique, and then we went to her house where we had been invited to take whatever books we wanted. Unfortunately, she almost exclusively read biographies and autobiographies.

In her various bookshelves there were at least 700 of them and I jotted down the titles of a few list here. In addition to what might be thought the ‘obvious’ biographies and autobiographies to have - Bill Clinton’s, his wife Hilary’s, Margaret Thatcher’s and Tony Blair’s - there was also The Billy Butlin Story, Walk-on Part In A Goldfish Bowl (Carol Thatcher), Life In The Farce Lane (Brian Rix), High Hopes (Ronnie Corbett), Don’t Make Me Laugh (Norman Wisdom), My World Is My Bond (Roger Moore), three by Kate Adie, six by Jeremy Clarkson (surely not all autobiographies, though I didn’t check), and autobiographies by Stella Rimmington, Liam Neeson, David Niven, John Simpson and Joanna Lumley.

According to my aunt, her friend wasn’t one for literature despite her job teaching English (in her case linguistics, she utterly defeated me for the few months it was part of my course at Dundee. In fact, had it not been deleted from the course for some reason, I would have failed my degree in English by an even greater margin than I eventually did. I did actually get a degree - I sat for an Honours, but was given an Ordinary - because, I was told, I had done rather well in Philosophy and the department insisted I get at least something however angry the English department were with me for wasting their time completely and utterly.)

I took just five, as far as I was concerned the only worthwhile five of the lot: Last Of The Hotel Metal Men (Derek Jameson), Memoirs (Kingsley Amis), Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell Is This (a biography by Marion Meade), At War With Waugh: The Real Story Of Scoop (Bill Deedes), and Gertrude And Alice (a biography of Gertrude Stein and Alice B Toklas by Diana Souham. I suspect I am something of a closet lesbian).

RIP Marjorie Deschaux (née Hirst).

. . .

Then there was the surprise death of one Paul Rogers who has previously been mentioned in the blog. Paul was one of the guys I got to know over these past few years when I stopped off at The Brewer’s Arms in South Petherton, Somerset, on my way home from London to Cornwall every Wednesday night, for a pint or three of cider, a cigar and to watch the second half of whatever Champion’s League match was showing.

When we first got chatting, it would seem Paul, then a just retired social worker (I suspect he was a little younger than me, but could retire early because he was a civil servant), seemed to be the tub-thumping leftie and I, given my restrained view on most things (except idiots who think Ravel’s Bolero is the pinnacle of musical achievement), the Tory.

Over the following months and in many conversations about this that and t’other it slowly became obvious that I was something of a leftie and Paul rather further to the right than he might have thought he was. Latterly, he admitted voting UKIP in the EU elections. I didn’t.

I stopped off at the pub a few Wednesday’s ago and while we were chatting, Paul said he would be at his caravan in Cornwall where he also keeps a small dinghy the following week and did I want to meet up for a drink? I did, and we settled upon meeting up on the Saturday at The Rashleigh Arms in Charlestown, just outside St Austell.

It was a pleasant drink and we chatted about all the things we usually chatted about, and then when it was time to leave, I said I would like to have a look at the old harbour (the set for many a film about 17th/18th/19th seagoing) and would he like to go along. He said, yes, but to my surprise added ‘but not to the bottom’. I was surprised because it really wasn’t far at all, but put his reluctance down to a rather long coughing fit he had just concluded.

Off we went when, after about three minutes he stopped and said he felt dizzy and not very well at all. We then stood there for about ten minutes - after a few minutes he sat down - before he felt well enough to return to his car.

On the way back, we had to stop again because he still felt awful. Back at his car he took out an angina spray, to my surprise, because I had no idea he suffered from angina. Then he took out another inhaler which he told me was for ‘pulmonary congestion’. That he suffered congestion was also news to me. I offered to drive him back to his caravan and pick up my car later, but he would have none of it, and finally drove off. About an hour later I received a text thanking me for standing him lunch and saying he had returned safely.

He was due to return to Somerset the following Thursday, but on that day, the manageress of the caravan site he was using was surprised to see his car still there by lunchtime as he had told her he would be leaving early in the morning. She got no reply from banging on his caravan door, called the police, they broke in and found him dead.

When I heard the news (the publican in South Petherton who knew we were friends got in touch to tell me), I assumed he had suffered a fatal heart attack, but I have since heard from his daughter that, thankfully, he ‘died in his sleep’ because he couldn’t get enough oxygen. Whether it was the painless death that phrase implies is another matter, of course. I, who dreams a great deal (and loves dreaming) can well imagine that you dream you are choking and unable to breath simply because you are unable to breath. And then you die. But I hope it was painless. Oh, and he also introduced me to the rather good music of Jack Lang which I mentioned here.

RIP Paul Rogers.

. . .

Just for the craic ... I posted this photo on Facebook with absolutely no response whatsover, so I’ll try my luck here. The caption is the same. It relates to the Great Liberation of Hibernia (also known as the Scottish independence referendum) due on September 18 - just 58 days away. Oooooh!

 I’m voting Yes! Why don’t you?

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