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15 July 2016 @ 09:55 pm
I am watching Versailles, and have reached episode 5. It is perfect summer tosh, a confection of a deeply silly script, gorgeous frocks and frock coats, a set comprised entirely of mirrors, gold, and topiary, and lots and lots of hair. Unusually for me, I find myself not caring about the undoubted historical inaccuracies, probably because it isn't pretending to tell any sort of true story nor to make striking historical parallels with today. Nor, most of all, pace Downton Abbey, to present its particular past as a golden age that we should yearn to return to, when we all knew our place. It is surprisingly well-acted, considering that the casting must have gone something like this:

(1) Interested people send in a photograph of their eyes. Those whose eyes are suitably dark and sultry (women) or piercing and aquamarine (men) are invited to proceed to stage 2.

(2) Attend costume trying-on session and be photographed in a wig.

(3) Answer questionnaire on whether you are prepared to be filmed naked, if so which parts may be broadcast, and how you feel about French kissing your co-stars.

(4) The actors presenting the best combination of the above will be selected.

It's all gloriously preposterous. It's as if they've constructed the entire thing around a cameraman with a fetish for close-ups of eyes and young men in dark wigs.

I have had the day off work in an attempt to pack etc. before I head off to my parents tomorrow, having been completely unable to do anything in the evenings due to general end of term shattered-ness and the remains of a cold. Apparently I dislike packing so much that in order not to prioritise it I will now the lawn, polish four pairs of shoes, install all the updates on my computer, and book Eurostar tickets (Lille). But the packing is done. I have not found one set of fic notes I meant to take, but since there is zero chance I will do any writing on it, that's OK. I have shoved in some different ones instead. I won't write that either, but I like to feel I might.

I have spent the rest of the day watching the news. Last night I switched on the news just before going to bed and found myself watching, for the second time in 9 months, as late at night terrible things unfolded in France. Now I've just done the same and there's a coup in Turkey.

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12 July 2016 @ 01:06 pm
First there was the amazing bear webcam of bears in the middle of an Alaskan river catching salmon (and of salmon leaping, if you're more into fish). Now for those who are more into wildfowl, there are multiple Norwegian sea birds, including a puffin sitting in the mouth of its burrows.

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09 July 2016 @ 09:24 am
Youngest Sister is here for the weekend, and we thought we'd look up what this week's Studio Ghibli offering was at the cinema. Alas, I think not, after reading this blurb for the film Ponyo:

After running away from the sea she calls home, an effervescent young fish-girl is rescued and befriended by a five-year-old human boy called Sosuke.

Naming her Ponyo, Sosuke soon comes to realise the heartbreaking impracticality of their budding romance.

I think that even without the expertise in reading things into text brought about by an English Lit degree and years of fandom I'd probably be saying 'no' to that one. Yeah, yeah, I'm sure it's a charming tale of friendship, but I think I'll wait a fortnight for The Wind Rises.

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04 July 2016 @ 08:55 pm
There is a crucial difference between Brexit and the plot of Götterdämmerung: though both have the leaders involved throwing their hands in the air and sitting doing nothing but wait until the house burns down around them, while elsewhere a bunch of people make some staggeringly stupid decisions despite the consequences surely being obvious from the start, the characters in the latter were actually gods, as opposed to just being bitter about membership of a school club. Also, a great redemption is definitely not spreading throughout this particular world as a result of their downfall. However George Osborne was present at both.*

Despite 6 hours** of Wagner feeling like a dubious decision 24 hours in advance, it turned out to be brilliant on the day. Indeed as the end approached I felt that 6 hours was far too short and it needed at least an additional hour. Nor was I alone in thinking so, judging by the comments from audience members near me at the end, and the general riveted silence.

It was a concert performance, being the only way Opera North can afford to do something like the Ring, but it felt as if nothing was lost thereby. Big screens at the back provided surtitles (good ones, thank goodness, no faux archaism. Whatever is lost in not distinguishing between du and Sie is more than gained in not sounding stupid when read in English in performance) and a degree of setting, of riverbank or water, wooden walls of a Dark Ages hall, fiery rock etc, with the aid of some coloured lighting. It doesn't sound much, but it really worked. No singer actually vaulting onto horseback and riding into the flames*** could have been more dramatic than a woman in evening dress standing in front of the orchestra in yellowing light, voice soaring seemingly effortlessly above it. And what an orchestra! I didn't manage an on-stage count, but as an estimate combined with a conservative reading of the programme**** I'd go for about a hundred (and I've just found confirmation - 101!). The orchestra of Opera North is always one of its strengths and this occasion was no exception, they were in magnificent form.

Wagner has a reputation of being hard-core opera. On the train in I was regretting that I hadn't had time to go carefully over leitmotifs etc in order to educate myself sufficiently to appreciate it. Reader, this is rubbish. Bad Wagner is probably incomprehensible torture on grounds of length alone, but good Wagner isn't hard at all. It's wonderful music that while I'm sure it greatly rewards study is very accessible without it and the leitmotifs leap up waving and shouting notice me! Alternatively, possibly I am simply well-trained in the School of Opera North, which has long interwoven Box Office certainties with more inventive repertoire. After all, Wozzeck is not only challenging and allows you to distinguish yourself as a company, it's pretty cheap to do. Back to Götterdämmerung. The plot is perhaps not one of its strength. Wotan doesn't turn up, and we get the new family to move into Eastenders (as the preliminary talk put it, very accurately). Hagen's***** Evil Plot depends entirely on his victims all being complete idiots. Fortunately for him, this is opera, and indeed mythology. It doesn't have to make sense in order to work. Hagen was sung by Mats Almgren looking like an evil thug in a Scandinavian detective drama - the more things change, the more things stay the same - and my favourite along with Kelly Cae Hogan as Brünnhilde.

A wonderful presentation of a wonderful work. I am converted, as you can tell! I wish I might have seen it all, I'm immensely glad I saw this.

Have some music:

*This would explain why each act started 5 mins late, if he was being ushered to his seat in the dark. Perhaps he might have borrowed the rather lovely guide dog I spotted stretched out on the carpet in the bar in the second interval. It's fair to say that Goldie, alone of all the beings I saw there, did not look wholly appreciative and wore a definite air of 'how long, oh lord, how long?'

**To be precise, 4 hours 40 mins of music, the rest intervals. That makes the first act equal in length to Tosca (2 hours), and the whole thing half as long again as an uncut Figaro.

***Now I need to check if that's every been done with (i) actual soprano, (ii) actual horse, (iii) actual flames. Checked! Though the examples mentioned don't specify flames...

****No need for ten anvil-players in this one, but I've never seen so many French horns (apparently some of them are 'Wagner tubas', which he invented because he needed an extra instrument...)

***** I first came across Hagen in my German GCSE textbook, which had a really good cartoon sequence of the Nibelunglied. We didn't read that bit, which tells you everything you need to know about the approach my high school took to engaging pupils in foreign languages.

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29 June 2016 @ 08:38 pm
Should Chuck Tingle run out of subjects for his unique brand of fiction, may I suggest that he consider the rich field offered by language learning?

Pounded in the Butt by Grammatical Gender and Turned Gay by the Indirect Object would surely be best-sellers.

Thank God for Collins easy learning... German Grammar and Practice, that's all I can say.

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24 June 2016 @ 06:18 am
I know that in terms of immediate personal threat, the despair that I feel right now is as nothing compared to that of my EU friends and colleagues, and indeed my friends and colleagues from beyond the EU who have been shown the foul xenophobia and racism of the UK, for make no mistake whatever other reasons might be spackled over the top this is sheer vile nationalism, but my sense of betrayal by my country and its politicians is absolute.

This need never have happened. This is a choice made not just by yesterday's voters, but by our political class. It is a choice that comes with an immediate cause, David Cameron's attempt to stave off UKIP at the last election, but it is a longer-term choice that comes from blaming every political ill on a nebulous European demon while systematically failing to address real grievances and driving people to think that the political establishment didn't give a shit for them. This last is sadly true, the terrible thing is that decades of misinformation mean people have targeted the wrong political establishment. If I believed in hell, I'd say Cameron, Gove, Farage, Johnson et al should burn in it. Add in Jeremy Corbyn, too, for an atrocious inability to do any sort of convincing Remain campaign. Unfortunately they're all going to be all right. It's the rest of us who will get hell.

On an immediate economic level I'm all right. My holiday spending will be curtailed*, but my employment protection is strong. If house prices crash, I will even benefit. But the place that I hoped I lived, and for someone who grew up under Thatcherism it was always only a hope, never a belief, is utterly gone.

*I feel incredibly fucking stupid for not thinking last night "book your European holiday now, anywhere at all". I know that this is trivial, but it adds to the surreal element of the morning's feelings.

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23 June 2016 @ 07:18 pm
I went, I picked up my pencil, I voted. It was definitely busier than usual, not that that is hard when it comes to council elections. I ended up walking to the polling station with my next-door neighbour who was leaving on the same errand, and there were other people turning up at the same time as we arrived (we put on a spurt and got there first).

And now we wait. I am not staying up tonight; I have to work tomorrow, and in particular I have to be alert tomorrow afternoon. That said, I can't imagine that the quality of decisions made is going to be very impressive. Everyone's going to be either giddy with relief or despondent.

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21 June 2016 @ 10:57 pm
I have just done some homework for the first time in umpteen years. Being in a classroom again, even an informal lunchtime classroom, is weird. [personal profile] white_hart kindly reassured me that the reason I had forgotten the German for computer and thus had to ask for it in order to create the sentence the instructor required was probably that I hadn't forgotten it, but that I had almost certainly never learned it. I feel both less forgetful and more old. I read something in the Journal of I Saw It Somewhere Studies about memories not being lost when we forget something but rather rendered inaccessible and the last couple of weeks of dragging myself up to my Lower Intermediate class level has really felt not like learning anew, but trying to clear away the detritus of years that obscures the things that I once knew from view, and drag the dative case kicking and screaming into the light.

After a week's EU referendum campaign that devolved into horror, things seem a bit calmer again, though I am avoiding this evening's television debate.* I don't know if the mood at work has changed to optimism or resignation. On a rather more trivial note I was supposed to be booking a summer holiday before the end of Thursday just in case the pound tanked, but I haven't quite managed to do it yet on account of having not quite decided what to do.** So apparently my worry about exchange rates does not quite outweigh my inability to make up my mind.

On a lighter note, it is very, very nearly the end of term! My last major committee meeting is on Friday, at which it can be safely assumed everyone will either be giddy with relief and demob happy, or sunk in despair.*** I suspect that either way the decisions made may not be entirely on rational grounds. Not, of course, that that is anything unusual. It is very nearly the end of term, and it can't come soon enough. There are garden parties tomorrow and Thursday and it may not rain. I have decided that on Thursday night I shall be taking sleeping pills. I do not need to repeat the experience of the Scottish referendum, sitting in bed at 2am watching the count. The morning will be soon enough to know, one way or the other.

*Gisela Stuart, have you lost your mind?

**Moral, don't leave booking your holiday for ages until loads of stuff is booked up. Also, try to work out the difference between the feeling that actually you aren't really bothered about doing Thing, and anxiety about Thing that you do want to do manifesting as pretending to yourself that you aren't really bothered about doing Thing.

***Universities are strongly institutionally and on an individual staff level pro-Remain. The consequences of leaving the EU will have a severe impact on British higher education as a global player, quite apart from the effect on individual EU staff and students.

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It’s the end of term, which means great busyness at work, plus a hectic weekend as my father came to visit. On the downside, I’m tired, though that is partly my fault as I keep not going to bed early enough. On the upside I’ve done some very enjoyable things, and I’m a lot less shattered than I have been at the end of every term for the past umpteen years, on account of my new tablets. Alas their miracle effects don’t include keeping the rain off, but you can’t have everything. It took 48 hours for my shoes to dry after a walk on Saturday in wet grass.

Some things I have seen this week:

Show Boat. Dad came down on Friday night and we went to the Sheffield Crucible production, which has transferred to the New London Theatre. It was utterly fantastic, and it’s a great shame that a production that has been so well-reviewed, of a piece that is not done that often, is closing in August rather than January due to lack of ticket sales. Clearly London audiences are just unadventurous… I admit that I watched the whole thing through a haze of nostalgia for the Opera North/RSC production of the late 80s/early 90s and subsequent family listening to a recording in the car, but everyone else seemed to be having a good time, too. A good solid case saw stand-out performances from Ravenal (a young American singer), Julie and Joe – the latter two understudies, it would be hard to imagine the leads being better. In short, if you’re in London and can see it, do. Here's the trailer, and here's Willard White in concert.

When Marnie Was There To describe something as ‘charming’ often seems a double-edged compliment, with an implication that it may also be rather slight. WMWT is utterly charming on every front, but it is also a serious and thoughtful film. I’d not seen a Studio Ghibli film before and I’m regretting that now, as it looked absolutely gorgeous and was completely worth seeing at the cinema. It’s based on a British children’s story that I’d never read, and which follows a fairly standard ‘lonely girl goes to stay with people in the countryside and meets a mysterious child who lives in an old house’ trajectory, but the depiction of the children’s friendship and their lives is done with a wonderful sensitivity. We saw the subtitled version, trailer here.

Eddie Izzard: Force Majeure It’s not that I’m not accustomed to attending performances in a foreign language – I like opera, after all. It’s just that they often have surtitles, and even then you don’t need to know more than the plot. Whereas this was in German, on account of the titles for the English hour of the three-hour show being sold out.

It turns out that with a little preparation to drag ye olde GCSE more to the forefront of the mind, Eddie Izzard is surprisingly easy to understand in German. For a start, he’s British, so he speaks with the “British person talking foreign” accent that I’m used to. But also the nature of his comedy works well even if you don’t get every world. The conceit of taking a concept and drawing it out to ever-absurder lengths means that as long as you can grasp the concept you can go with it. I got completely lost only at one point when I had absolutely no idea what sort of frantically-digging animal he was on about. The options my brain tried included werewolves, my neighbour guessed crabs – if only I’d stopped trying to think “what does that word sound a bit like?” and gone instead with “which animals famously dig in the way he’s doing an impression of?”, since the answer was moles.

There clearly were more sophisticated jokes and references that the native-speaker portion of the audience was getting and people like me weren’t, but overall I was quite chuffed with my ability to follow what was going on. All I have to do now is spend the weekend reminding myself of such technical details pronoun declensions, verb conjugations, and where you put the second sodding verb before my course next week...

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09 June 2016 @ 09:30 pm
Those of you with relatives of an age and class to shop at Woolworths in the late 40s/early 50s may be familiar with the little amber-stemmed, gold-leaf printed sherry glasses to be seen in many a household cupboard. My father bought some as a birthday present for his mother when he was of an age I can't remember, but below 10, and paid his father back for them with most of his pocket money for months. My grandmother did indeed drink sherry out of them. Dad has the sole survivor. And as of this lunchtime, when I saw a set of five for £7.50 as I was passing the local hospice charity shop, I have some myself! I already have sherry glasses, so I think I might just have to drink schnapps out of these; they would be the perfect size. Once I have christened them with some sherry.

Woolworth sherry glasses

This is in perfect time to surprise my father, arrives tomorrow for a weekend visit. In the grand tradition of such visits I have spent this evening tidying up (i.e. shoved things in drawers) and ensuring that there are no fanfic notes lying around the place. Dad is well aware I write fanfic, but I can live without him actually reading it outside controlled conditions.

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