We haven’t been annihilated by Russian missiles. The invasion of Ukraine continues, with thousands killed and millions made refugees, but it all seems far away, certainly far enough to be forgotten on a sunny day in May. I have a feeling that British interest in this war is waning, as it becomes almost normal, a semi-permanent fixture. It is shameful to say it, but we have a short attention span where disasters are concerned.
It has been a busy fortnight, in a good way
My parents now seem settled in Upton Manor, though it has taken four months for my father to stop moaning about what a “shambles” it all is. (I knew he was a control freak, but it was not so obvious when he was in his own domain.) He is sleeping and eating well, and venturing downstairs more often to see Mum and attend events, such as a recent singalong which both Mum and Dad enjoyed. The staff are amazed – as I am – at his Lazarus-like recovery. Whilst things may not be perfect, because fundamentally Dad doesn’t want to be there, they are now safe, with kind and helpful people around them.
I too am sleeping longer and better, and have found more energy. Spring is turning to summer and Covid-19 restrictions, for now, are a thing of the past. Carpe diem, (“seize the carp”) as the Welsh say.
On Friday 13 May Anne and I took the train to Cooden in East Sussex to enjoy a weekend with friends. Their 17th-century house and enviable garden with its ancient apple trees was delightful, and constantly visited by birds, including woodpeckers and nuthatches. If not quite up to the standard of Christopher Lloyd’s Great Dixter, where we spent a sunny afternoon followed by a pint in a pub garden.
The following week was warm, with the countryside looking fresh and green. I took a bus to Oxford with my father-in-law to see the Pissarro exhibition at the Ashmolean (good, though the best pictures were by other artists, such as Seurat), dropping in on my alma mater (more Welsh), The Queen’s College, en route, and having tea with friends on the rooftop terrace of the museum before catching the bus back to Victoria.
A couple of days later Anne and I managed to get tickets to Yayoi Kusama’s Mirror Rooms at Tate Modern. Kusama is a remarkable artist, still creating stimulating artworks in her 90s from the mental hospital where she is a long-term resident.
Then followed another glorious weekend, this time in Purbeck where we rented a spacious static caravan with two friends. The Dorset countryside was at its stunning best: sunny but not too hot for long walks along the Priest’s Way and over the hills to the sea. I never tire of visiting this magical part of England. But I do tire of the long walks.
On the way down to Hampshire to collect Anne from a seminar she was taking part in I stopped briefly at Alresford, a village I had never been to before. I strolled along the River Alre with its famous watercress fluttering in the stream by the old fulling mill. It was idyllic, absurdly beautiful. Too late, I remembered that our former next-door neighbours now live in Alresford.
My next cultural jaunt was to the Dulwich Picture Gallery, just a short walk from home, to see Reframed: The Woman at the Window. From the country’s first public museum (the Ashmolean) to the first public art gallery; there were some fine paintings on show: mostly loans but also a few from the DPG’s word-class collection.
And then once more to the Wirral to visit the aged parents, a less depressing experience than in the past. A train home on Saturday afternoon, just in time to get to the Barbican Hall to see John McLaughlin, still magnificent at 80 years of age and with a lot more hair than I have.
The finest jazz guitarist to come out of Doncaster
In my late teens I was obsessed – amongst other things – by the Mahavishnu Orchestra.
It was McLaughlin’s fault that I blew a king’s ransom (see my post on the Osma studentship) on a Shergold double-neck guitar – which I still possess. I have heard McLaughlin play live on two previous occasions, once with Shakti and once with Jack Bruce et al., but that was 40+ years ago. It is almost incredible that he is still at the top of his game four decades on. He is famous, indeed infamous, for being able to play at 100 miles an hour, but that should not obscure the fact that he is a very sensitive musician.
His homage to Paco de Lucía, “El hombre que sabía”, was especially memorable. Paco was another guitar hero of my youth. I first heard his work when I was living in León in 1976, and I bought a copy of “Entre dos aguas” (45 RPM) in El Corte Inglés, so I can claim to have discovered him 10 years before Johnny Mac did! Unlike McLaughlin he died young, in 2014.
Apart from half a dozen that I sold about 30 years ago (and I regret that) I still have every record I have ever bought. I have had some for half a century or longer. With very few exceptions I would happily play them today, if I had the means. The fact that my musical tastes have not much changed (from Javanese court gamelan through Hector Berlioz to Stevie Wonder) over the years is perhaps a bit weird, a sign of a dysfunctional personality? But, on the contrary, the continuity of beliefs and preferences may be an admirable quality. Either way, I can live with it.
My daily phone conversations with Dad suggest that he is continuing to make good progress, both physically and mentally. The time is right to take that long-postponed trip to Greece. All being well, there will be reflections on that when we return.