Friday, December 31, 2010

Facebook Which Proust character are you?


New Years Eve and time to relax. Facebook has some amusing quizzes - 'Which Shakespearean character are you?'  Rosalinde, 'Which fairytale character are you?' 'Alice in Wonderland' so how about 'Which character from Search for Lost Time are you?' 'Albertine? Odette? Oriane? The Baron de Charlus?'

Wait a minute! 'Search for Lost Time?' What's that? Yes I know it is hard to believe but quite a few of us have never read the finest novel in the world by Marcel Proust. Its twelve volumes are slightly daunting and you do need 'plenty of time in bed' but for those of you who haven't 'read it' it is worth the effort. To do the quiz you obviously have to have read the book.

The choice of characters is mouthwatering over 2000 and most of them very memorable but I am limited to the female characters so lets have a go. I am not 'Albertine' She is too androgynous for me. She could be male or female and was the' Narrator's' greatest love. She was attractive and self confident but I am not she. I am 'all' woman.

I am not 'Oriane' the witty and beautiful 'Duchess of Guermantes'. She is too aristocratic  for me and I am certainly not the dreaded 'Madam Verdurin', the social climber although she is so unpleasant I think many people think I am. 'Madam Verdurin' is too sharp, clever and ruthless for me. She wins her social race and becomes 'The Princess de Guermantes'  the pinnacle of Parisian society when it no longer matters. I lost my career to a vicious woman because I was simply too nice.

'Odette Swan' the  pretty clever little courtesan who marries the courtier 'Charles Swann'  now there is a possibility. 'Swann' had the misfortune to love 'Odette' beyond all reason so that although 'Odette' was 'not his style' he gave up his influential position in society and married her. I feel sure my husband who was much older and far more formally educated than I may have felt I was 'Odette' but despite everything he married me much to the surprise of his family.

'Odette' was a high class courtesan who knew how to deal with men. She was very intelligent in this area When she knew a man actually loved her she knew she could treat him with disdain and still keep him panting for more. She knew that the way to a man's heart was to be able to say 'No I cannot come to dinner with you tonight' and then go on to tell him how she was enjoying herself without him.

Yes I was middlle class and uneducated but I am a one guy woman. When I love I love forever and 'Odette' in truth never loved 'Swann'.

So whose left? Well 'Gilberte, 'Odette' and 'Swann's' daughter and the 'Narrator's 'first love. 'Gilberte' is ordinary, pretty, uneducated. She knows she must marry well but is not after social position although she does attain it when she marries for love sadly a man who is not worthy of her love.

'Gilberte' is nice! She maybe thoughtless but she is not unkind. She never promises the 'Narrator' anything but a social friendship but nevertheless is important in his life as the wife of his best friend.

So now it is your turn Which Proustian character are you? I hope this encourages you to read the book and find out.

The Baron de Charlus returned to Paris after a month in Balbec

These portraits are by David Richardson and his blog on Proust is well worth a visit.  

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Nationalization and the Water Supply

'Northern Ireland water shortage 'could become major health emergency'
Northern Ireland's escalating drinking water crisis is in danger of developing into a major health emergency, doctors have warned.' Telegraph headline.

Northern Ireland Water (NIW), the company at the centre of the crisis, said it was unable to say when supplies would be fully restored. At times of crisis like this one is made aware that selling off national essential services to private companies whose main concern is the stockholder's profit is not a good idea.

In the past there has been a fashion to sell off usually for a song a countries silver. The Russians did it after the fall of the Soviet Union and were taken for a ride by the greedy oligarchs one of whom has found himself in prison. New Zealand did it. The government sold off everything, airlines, railways, farm land and Uk is dong it at the moment with the UK Post.

It sounds good in theory but not practice as companies even large ones are not big enough or capable of keeping the infrastructure going and indeed if not making money can 'close up'. Well you can't 'close up' when you are supplying a population with water or electricity or gas as Northern Ireland is now finding out.

Here in New Zealand the government was forced to buy back  Air New Zealand as it became obvious that New Zealand which is an isolated country stuck in oceans of water, had to have its own communication system that did not rely on a foreign country just 'pulling' out because it wasn't profitable.
NZ can't rely on Richard Branson or Australia when the chips are down.Whatever happens New Zealand must have its own airline and all New Zealanders have to pay for it, all 4 Million of us. Bit like Manchester having its own Airline and Army and Navy and Air Force. The railways sold for $1 to very greedy bankers now living is Switzerland were bought back for millions.

New Zealand is now halting the sale of its farm land to foreigners, a bit late true but sovereign countries can always nationalize as a last resort if they are forced to do so.

Keeping infrastructure up to standard is expensive and ongoing and necessary as I see daily. By accident I bought into a socially upwardly mobile area. It has gone from undesirable to dead rich chic and in the thirty year process the builders have never stopped. Every day someone is upgrading to keep the place in order. 'My dear' the noise dust and inconvenience! It is never ending and it has to be done.

Water supplies, electricity and gas supplies, public transport/communications and the medical establishment are public necessities and should be in public ownership. They are too important to leave to money grabbing entrepreneurs who leave things to rot.

No doubt Northern Ireland will now be aware that privatization of essential services doesn't work.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Xmas Alone -The Thing We Most Dread

Yesterday I faced for the first time in 67 years the thing that people secretly dread the most - the prospect of a Christmas alone, without one's family.

These things can happen through circumstances beyond anyone's control one finds oneself alone at a time when 'family' is being celebrated by the entire world and one is just 'left out'. One tries to ' join in' but to do this one has to have a family on hand or at least be able to get to the family one has got. Sometimes one can't. Sometimes one is 'the outsider' and not wanted at the feast.

My small family a daughter and a childhood friend almost a sister live a plane ride away. They cannot come to me and health problems mean I cannot get to them consequently I have to face Christmas alone.

What does one do?

After 25 years of cooking and entertaining on Christmas Day I decided that this year I would leave it to someone else. I have invited many others in the same position as I have found myself now to join our family celebrations but even if I received no acceptable invitations I was not going to again cook myself on Xmas day. I received no acceptable invitations even  from those who have greatfully accepted my hospitality when they have found themselves in this position in the past.

It is difficult and to be kind I have to think my friends who could invite me didn't think I was alone after all I had managed for 9 years since my husband died with no problems.

One invitation was offered if I needed it but that was to a family of my dearest friend who I hardly know a long way away and I felt it would be an intrusion.

I have neighbours who I have known for 37 years with large families who never bothered to ask 'What are you doing for Christmas?' and 'If you are alone why not join us'. One more at their feast would not have hurt. Instead I had to listen to the party which was fun. If you live alone neighbours become almost invisible. One has a short contact say once every six months. It is almost as if they are afraid they might be asked to help and in fact they would help in an emergency gladly but they would rather not if it could be avoided. At my husband's death I got flowers but not one neighbor actually called to see if I was OK. They knew I was completely alone and may have been asked to organize a funeral. My husband and I had foreseen this possibility hence no funeral!

So how to survive? I just carry on as anyone else does who has a family. I am a superb actress. I look happy. I send cards give presents and ask 'What are you doing for Christmas? and look happy for them. Rarely does anyone ask me the same question. If they do I just lie. It seems to difficult to do otherwise. Once I made a mistake and did tell the truth that I dreaded the prospect of Christmas alone and I did feel devastated that I, who loved and enjoyed family and Christmas felt like an 'outsider'.  This did not meet with any sympathy or suggestions. 

It is amazing how those who have a great Christmas planned can be so unthinkingly cruel to those of us who haven't. I made the mistake of making a plate of mince pies for the builders who are renovating my bathroom. They all politely declined the offer before flying of to their families for the great day

So how did my Christmas on my own go? Surprisingly well. In fact I enjoyed it enormously. Not the best Xmas ever but the 'no cooking' part was exceptional. I am not going back to that ever.

I make a 'live' Xmas Card each year so I spent the morning sending that out. A dear friend came for coffee at around ten am to ensure I had some social contact before going on for his own Xmas dinner. He did know that I was alone and did offer to see if his friend could extend the invitation to two but I knew this was not acceptable. I declined the offer.

I Skyped my grand daughter and this made me feel part of my family. Skype is a blessing for lonely grandparents. It is the best thing going in this situation. Without this visual contact I should indeed have felt 'devastated'.

A visit from a new friend across the road who is suffering and fighting an aggressive cancer who alone of my neighbours took the time to see that I was OK for which I was extremely grateful. Again I feel sure that she would have invited me to her family feast but this year is not the moment.

A short walk and then the afternoon with Proust. A cold collation of turkey and bubble and squeak and then a mindless evening with TV. Sex and the City. Proust is better.

Did I enjoy it? Yes. Will I do it again? Yes. I have no fairy godmother to wave a wand and say 'You shall go to the ball'. I have no wish to impose myself on anybody who does not genuinely and freely want me at their family feast. Sadly I have been forced to make my own and it was a great party. As good as any five star hotel You should have been there!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Upstairs Downstairs the Real Rose


'Upstairs Downstairs' the well loved TV series is returning to BBC television this Christmas for another three episodes. Jean Marsh who was one of the original creators returns at 73 to play the ladies maid 'Rose who has now become the Housekeeper.

Rose is based on Jean Marsh's own mother,  Marshie, who was a ladies maid during this period. Ladies maids became more than a servant to their mistresses they became their friends and possibly the only real friends, as far as anyone paid to do this type of job, can be. The upper classes became very dependent on their servants. Proust and Celeste spring immediately to mind. How could he Proust have completed 'a la recherche' without her?

Few people today can have any idea of what it is to have a ladies maid and in truth that is a 'good thing'. Ghandi believed that everyone should be capable of doing their own chores. Make their bed, cook for themselves, wash their clothes and generally not depend on paid servants to do this for you. Ghandi believed the world would be a happier place without a servant class and I throughly concur. Except for one occasion which embarrassed me, I have done my own laundry, I have done other people's laundry for little thanks but ever since the age of 16 I have done my own but for a short period of my life I have had a ladies maid and not any old ladies maid. My ladies maid was Marshie or 'Rose', Jean Marsh's mother. Would you believe it!

Zips are never used in opera, ballet or the London Theatre. All theatrical clothes have hooks and eyes for safety. It is impossible to get into or out of these dresses, some of them are heavy and complicated, without help. Quick changes in the wings, there are many of these, need costumes to be  carried down and up many flights of stairs, and in intervals cups of tea are needed. Intervals for audiences are usually hectic for the artists who have to make complete changes from say 'swans' to 'courtiers' in less than seven minutes. Dressers are essential and come with the job.

At first I felt embarrassed at having someone 'dress' me. I had had dressers before but never one like Marshie.

For the 'Desert Song' at the Palace Theatre my dresser was Marshie. What an incredible experience! Within minutes Marshie had my life organized down to the last hairpin. Make up, laundry, tea, visitors, hair, telephone calls and gossip. My dressing room was the epitome of her craft for Marshie was a real ladies maid. Backstage she was a 'star'. I was just so lucky and indeed grateful. Being in a West End Musical is quite a responsibility and because everyone is doing a first class job it can be very lonely.

As the comedy lead my partner and myself were usually on the stage to cover the main casts' costume and scenery changes so mostly we never met them. When I was 'on' they were 'off' so Marshie became my friend who gave me all the news. It was fun and as she was a great cook I got many treats especially the Xmas Cake.

It was only when Jean Marsh came to the musical that I found out Marshie was Jean Marsh's inspiration for 'Rose' and I can see why. Jean Marsh knew her mother and has immortalized her in the character of 'Rose'. Marshie will be famous and live on when all of us are long gone! She deserves it.

Janette Miller as 'Susan' in her dressing room at The Palace Theatre  London

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Joyless La Dance at The Paris Opera

'La Dance' expose of Paris Opera Ballet 2008/09 was a two and a half  hour joyless affair. Very long, four old ladies walked out, I nearly as old, nearly had to too as 'nature' was calling.

Not one moment of enjoyment by anyone. I am glad I didn't have to work there. The dancers up close looked old an sinewy and bored stiff, during rehearsals anyway. I mean what can you tell a ballerina who can 'do it'? A little more 'plie' sounds ridiculous.

The film lingered on rehearsing  the modern  ballets which is OK if the choreographer is Graham Murphy but not the choreography of the '1001 different ways to make the body move fast to music that has no time signature' variety. The dancers just had to do the intricate steps fast regardless of the music and it was boring without the lighting and costumes. Choreography these days is a very male affair which is not surprising since the Paris Opera Ballet was invented for the elite male to pick up little ballet dancers. The fantastic room in which they did this behind the stage was not shown.

The female dancers all look the same and I have no still idea who any of them were. Their dancing in rehearsal was rough. very rough. I and the other ladies remaining had to wait until the credits. It was like a guessing game. Spot the ballet. I did rather well with a couple of good guesses.

Two elderly dancers,  well into late thirties, danced in modern dress to a piece of music I felt was vaguely familiar. The set was abstract and moved and I suddenly realized it was Berlioz's  'Romeo & Juliet'.  The couple would have been OK from a distance but not up close.

The style of the film was slow and it badly needed re-editing. It was interesting to learn that bees are kept on the roof of the opera but not for two and a half minutes. Thirty seconds would have been ample. Most of the dance shoots were from the side as the rooms surprisingly small and of course ballet does not present well side on.

The artistic director, a woman, I could relate to, having had the experience myself. She was very like me. Her once concern was to please their  major sponsor and at least five minutes of the film was given up to ensuring that, wait for it, Lehemen Brothers got value for money. They were so proud of the bank. The dancers main worry and I can totally understand, was their governments  plan to diminish their pension rights. It seems that every dancer has to retire at 40 regardless.

No wonder Nureyev spelt Nureeve en francais hated the place and why he made nineteen year old Sylvie Guilleme an 'etoile' sooner than later.

That does not mean I think the film should not have been made. It is worthwhile as it demonstrates how an hierarchical institution can be artistically suffocating while producing work of the highest quality. For ballet to continue today The Paris Opera Ballet  has to remain as only a major state can fund such an organization and the past is worthy of preservation.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

How to open an envelope by Marcel Proust

It is summer time in Auckland, hot and humid and the only thing to do is to spend the afternoon in bed with Marcel Proust. The long summer days are perfect for enjoying 'In Search  of  Lost Time' or what ever Proust's novel is known as these days. My husband Miles was right! Proust can change your life and ever since my introduction to 'The Cities of the Plain' and the 'Baron de Charlus' I have never been the same.

Proust and I have a lot in common both of us spend prodigious hours in bed because of our respective illnesses. We have to fill in time, Proust with his novel which he never finished completely, the last third Proust never got around to editing and it shows and I,  with my computer on which I can spend hours learning how to get a button to turn the sound  on and off. I am very proud of my personal on/off switch for which I wrote the code. Took a week!

Both of us have had to self publish as in both our cases nobody else is going to. Proust eventually decided to publish his novel himself and sent 'Swans Way' the first part to all his friends by post. Sadly most of them found great difficulty in actually opening the envelope. Proust rang one of them and asked if the receiver had enjoyed his book. The friend couldn't even recall getting it let alone reading it but said 'Well if you sent it I must have read it'.  I know how Proust feels.

I too have a limited audience. If one cannot bore one's friends what are they for? This year I have sent a few of them a 'Potpourri' of the songs and poems on which I have amused myself. From Wordsworth to 'Winnie the Pooh' and Carpenters to Wagner. There is something for everyone.

It was costly too as the NZ Post Office now charges a music CD as a parcel! In fact to send a CD to USA first class post airmail with no tracking to ensure it arrives for Christmas costs, wait for it $58!!!! Yes I could hardly believe that myself. This must be the biggest 'rip off' known to man.

I wonder how many of my friends will  open the envelope and find the time to place it in their computer or CD player? So far only one has to my knowledge listened to it. I suppose one out of 25 is not a bad hit rate. If only they realized the hours it takes to produce even a minor work of art and the pleasure it would give their friend to know that they had listened to it.

It is not even worth sending to one's immediate family who should be the most supportive but who usually fail in that department. My own family is my worst critic. My mother never ever once said she enjoyed anything I did or produced, my daughter just hates my  UK accent  and suggested I find another narrator for my DVD series even though  I get praised for my voice by commentators on YouTube, one even saying I had the best voice on the whole channel.

So perhaps in the future there is hope for me yet. Maybe when I am dead my performance  of Wordsworth's 'Daffodils' will be appreciated and my updating of Wagner bring this colossal composer back to mainstream along with the lost musical 'The House of Cards'.

In the meantime I live in the forlorn hope that perhaps my friends will open the jewel case as a CD case is called and put it in the CD player. To ring and tell me they enjoyed it might be just too much to expect.

Sadly because anything after 1920 is in copyright the world will have to wait at least 50 years before hearing most of the contents on this so I am unable to give you a taste. It will be worth waiting for, I tell myself.

Janette Miller's Christmas CD first edition 2010.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy- Techno Style

Today, by accident  I discovered the world of the re-mix. Looking for a version of The Sugar Plum Fairy I found lots and lots and lots of versions, all original and creative. In the world of the re-mix classical music is alive and well.

Jonathan Miller the stage director felt that all true masterpieces had an after life and were re interpreted with every age and bought up to date. Miller's concept is proved by the Sugar Plum Fairy, from 'The Nutcracker' by Tchaikovsky which is living on for the masses in hip hop, jazz, electronic rock versions.

Some of the visuals that go with these versions are innovative too. Some very simple but some quite technically advanced showing what can be done by creative people who are given the opportunity. Nothing establishment here but good unusual imaginative work.

Spent an amazing and informative hour checking it out. You should too. Establishments who for centuries have had control over what the public sees are in for a shock.

Here's two accapella version not the best but certainly unusual.

Friday, December 3, 2010

International Competitions the fickle finger of ?

England has lost it's bid to host the Football World Cup in 2018. Congratulations to Russia is in order. 

Once again the wisdom of entering  International Competitions raises its head. How fair is it? Well not very.

My first experience with international competitions came with the TV light entertainment competition the Prix de Rose which is held in Switzerland. I had always dreamed of entering this competition since I first saw it as a child on my Grandfather's early TV. It seemed so glamorous and for me unattainable but in 1987 I had a TV programme, 'Dance Tales Story Ballets' that qualified.

The previous winner had been The Muppet  Show a kidult entertainment and my 'Dance Tales' was in a similar vein. 

The first problem I met was at TVNZ who just said that because of the unfairness of the judging TVNZ no longer entered any TV programme in international TV competitions. It wasn't worth it but I could enter as an individual if I wanted. Unwisely I did. They took my money and my programme was disqualified as it was deemed a children's programme. There was nothing I could do. The winner was a bland Austrian programme with Julie  'the hills are alive to the sound of'Andrews OK but nothing original or outstanding. The Prix de Rose apologized prettily said they had 'made a mistake' and hoped I would enter another programme next year. I felt the whole thing was so unfair.

In the Canadian version my programme never even made a screening although it had just finished as a finalist in the USA LA Monitor awards for Best Edited Programme. I began to see the wisdom of NZTV's decision. TV Awards everywhere are tainted by self interest and that includes Oscars and Emmies.

Recently I entered the  UK Royal Ballet's Composition competition. I put in quite a bit of thought and work and although I did not win, two Englishmen did, I think I deserved an honorable mention as there were only five entries, three of which were mine. Had I lived in London, was male young and could have attended the awards ceremony I might have fared better. I did not expect any recognition but coming last hurt. The Royal Opera House asked for innovation but when they got it they ran for the cover of  acceptability. Never mind my entries are faring well on YouTube, possibly better than the winner whose entry is safe and ordinary where as mine were at least imaginative, fulfilled the criteria and are not boring.

The BBC's World's radio play is another no no. You enter and that's it. The winner is always an African and there is no feedback. My play written over a decade ago was about child abuse in RC schools. It was obviously too hot to handle in the light of the present situation. I had no idea at the time that this was a familiar occurrence. This yearly competition is still running. Don't bother is my advise. Your manuscript like mine will be put in the waste paper basket. You never even hear who wins.

FIFA is a 'questionable' organization. Three members had been suspended for taking bribes and the BBC  Panorama expose of corruption in three of the remaining members on the voting committee meant that it was not possible for England to win. It would have been a surprise if it had. 

To win you have to do everything that your competitor does plus a bit more. If other competiors are allowed to bribe or influence the judges, and the USSR was very good at that in the past, the competition is not worth entering unless one does it for experience or in the knowledge that you are not going to win. In NZ at an International Rhythmic Gym competition I was told frankly that unless Australia won they would not be returning. Australia won although in questionable circumstances. The judges made a 'mistake' in Australia's favour admitted it but would not correct. Very tough on the gymnasts who rely on fairness.

I knew I had no hope with the Royal Ballet or in fact the USA Guggenheim Competitions but it was fun to enter and I learned a lot and if a similar competition  arises I shall still enter.  

England never had a hope with the Football World Cup. It had hosted it in the past and pointing out that some of the judges were bribable was not a 'good idea'. If you enter this sort of circus you do so at your peril and should not be surprised when you are kicked in the teeth. The temptation by the judges to humiliate is too good an opportunity to miss.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Pope Joke No Joke

It is hard to believe that in this day of freedom of speech that a man could be sacked for passing on a joke by email but Scottish Football referee Hugh Dallas has been sacked by the Scottish Football Association for doing just this.

When you actually see the joke above which is mildly amusing one starts to understand why the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Wikileaks 'Whoopsy' The USA Regrets

Good on yeh Wikileaks for exposing the double standards in the USA today. For many years the USA Establishment has acted as if it alone has the right to do anything it wants and the hypocrisy of their position has been exposed for all to see and enjoy

There is nothing that the world's population enjoys so much as the great being humbled. Their discomfort at least makes life bearable for the rest of us

It really comes as no surprise to anyone that diplomatic utterances have two meanings and always have. Noel Coward in the 1930's put it so well in his revue pastiche 'His Excellency Regrets' where Coward contrasts what is said by what is meant.

'His Excellency regrets that owing to an attack of gout
He really cannot venture out on Saturday to dine'

Goes the first verse where plausible excuses are offered to all and sundry.

In the second verse Coward tells us what the underlying meaning is when he gives 'the world a whiff of plain unguarded truth'!

'His Excellency regrets that lacking a better alibi
He must admit he'd rather die that open your bizarre.' 

The song is hilarious and very apt for today. The USA, that bastion of freedom good manners and propriety has been caught with it trousers down to the hilarity of the rest of us.

Didn't anyone inform them that anything one writes on a computer is there forever and can be accessible to all. Monica Lewinsky found that out. All the letters she wrote but never sent were displayed in public for all to read and snigger at! 

Never write anything on a computer that you don't want the whole world to see is the maxim I go by.

Our betters are just big babies who indulge in power over the rest of us and now they have been found out.  We all know most of this anyway. No surprises at all. The surprise is that anyone should be offended.

It seems that the USA State Department has no sense of humour. It is all our fault it appears. Twill all blow over by tomorrow. I'll now be on the FBI's list!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Biblical Resurrection of Harry Potter in The Deathly Hallows

Harry Potter  film time again and the first part of the final book Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  Next year, in the final part  JK Rowling's subjects her hero Harry Potter to the Passion and Resurrection of Christ. It takes shear courage to do that!

I must admit I enjoyed early Potter. The books and films were such fun. Hogwarts was the sort of school I should have loved to attend. True the school I went to was housed in the most beautiful old fantasy mansionCaldcote Towers in Bushey but there the comparison ended. However I did get an absolutely first class religious education so I can recognize an ironic, biblical parody  when I see one. What I find surprising is that so few readers have done so. It is so obvious even I can see it.

Harry Potter has a powerful effect on its readers. JK Rowling is extremely skilled and I realized as I read  the novels  that Rowling based some of her plot lines on famous authors work for example  the torture incident where Harry is subjected to have 'I am a liar' slowly etched into his hand by a soft feather is pure Kafka. In  Kafka's The Penal Colony he describes the last use of an elaborate torture and execution device that carves the sentence of the condemned prisoner on his skin in a script before letting him die. all in the course of twelve hours.

On first reading I found the final chapters of the Deathly Hallows confusing. Harry sacrfices himself dies and ends up in a waiting room at Kings Cross Station before coming back to life again. Kings Cross Station was a bit of a puzzle at first and then bingo  Purgatory. A quick peruse again over the last chapters and it was as clear as crystal.

 The Passion and Resurrection of Christ.  Rowling does little to disguise her plot using words like 'Resurrection Stone' and 'crucio' and in fact when you think about it the Bible is perhaps the most powerful book in the world. God knew a good story line that would sell and it still does and so does JK  Rowling.

So for all Potter lovers here is how it works. Dumbledore is God the Father who sets up his sort of son Harry/Jesus to be sacrificed to save mankind. Harry/Jesus allows himself to be killed by Voldemort, then like the dead Christ descends into to Purgatory/Limbo/hell disguised as the Waiting Room at Kings Cross Station where the damned cannot be helped hence the creature in the background writhing on the floor. Harry meets with the dead Dumbledore and allows himself to be resurrected to save the world and enter into paradise. In the last confrontation between Harry/Jesus , Vodlemort/Satan can only be saved if he shows 'remorse' and seeks redemption. Voldemort like all fallen angels choses death and damnation. Harry Potter goes on to lead a normal life and is nothing special just an ordinary wizard. Perhaps a way of indicating that Jesus was just an ordinary human being nothing special.

These last  chapters have biblical references on every page. Rowling must have known exactly what she was writing. I wonder how long she thought it would take to be discovered?  It takes a lot of spunk to plagiarize the bible but hey Shakespeare did it all the time with his contemporaries nothing was safe and the Bible is well out of copyright.

I admire her courage and I enjoy her literary braiding and use of literary references in her work.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Real Royal 'Student Princes' William and Charles

One of my first theatre leading roles was 'Kathie' in the Romberg musical. 'The Student Prince' is sad tale of a royal prince going to university, falling in love with a bar maid but for reasons of state having to marry a Princess. It all ends unhappily.

One would think it could never happen today but it has twice, once with tragic end followed by a happy end, Charles, Diana, Camilla and once hopefully with a happy ending from the start for Kate and William for I think all  of us who have experienced a happy marriage, and a lot of us have,  wish them 'all the luck in the world' and secretly wish we could 'do it' all over again for it is said every happy marriage ends in a tragedy when the first beloved dies. For the one left it is ghastly.

For once I do not envy Kate and William for although the future looks brilliant  today with royal weddings, luxury palaces, no money worries the future may not be so rosy. Like Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette they could be the Royal Couple who oversee the 'Fall of the House of Windsor' and that may be pretty uncomfortable. I am glad it is not going to happen to me, palaces or no palaces. At least they should be allowed to retire gracefully and not get their heads chopped off.

The legacy of 'The Student Prince' unhappy version that became happy after unwanted princess died and bar maid became Queen may be too much to stomach for some citizens. The Dominions  may favor  republics in the near future. Power based on heredity is not a  'good thing' in fact it is a very 'bad thing'.

It is said that William has indicated he has no desire to be a King. I think it was a wise idea  for him to wait as long as possible before inflicting marriage to the 'Firm' on his beloved.  At least after eight years they will be friends and Kate will have had a toe in the water to feel the temperature. The may need all the luck they can get.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Beethoven Man or Monster?

Beethoven man or monster?

I think, like many now and in the past, I have revered the brilliance of Beethoven's music. I knew little of the man but that mattered not. Beethoven's music is heroic. Just listening to it transports me to another better world so it was with great anticipation and pleasure that I started to  read a book  that my husband, an Oxford educated GP, suggested I should find illuminating. I did. I found it uncomfortable and 'un-putable downable' as the  romantic musical icon disintegrated before my eyes. The man and the music did not match. ( see my blog on Icons)

The portrait of the romantic hero on the left is very different from the tight lipped nondescript portrait above. They hardly look like the same man. The man above is the true Beethoven much to the regret of many biographers who would have preferred the one on the left.

The book was 'Beethoven and his Nephew' by Richard and Editha Sterba and from which I shall quote as they explain the 'difficulty ' rather better than I. Although Beethoven's music is of the Gods Beethoven in real life was not an attractive character to put it mildy. Wagner, another musical genius,  was another composer whose personal life left a lot to be desired and is  angelic when compared to Beethoven. I am not saying that anything in Wagner's personal life is to be excused and the same goes for Beethoven. The world knows about Wagner but it seems turns a 'blind eye' to Beethoven.
'For most people is is surprising - for many, indeed, it is painful - to learn that the ideal image of Beethoven which they have gained from literature and formed in themselves from their experience of his works is in such contradiction to his real personality. For the partly conscious, but in greater measure unconscious, need in mankind to believe in ethically higher figures, paramount and superhuman affects not only biographers; it is common to all men. They stubbornly defend the illusion of the ideal figure against reality. In our our culture this need for an ideal figure finds one of its typical forms of expression in overevaluation of the artist.'
In the case of no other genius, certainly, did idealizing biography find it more of a problem to distort the facts than in dealing with Beethoven.
Heroization seeks to bridge over the contradiction between work and man which in Beethoven's case was felt to be particulary strong and painful. But the contradiction itself can only be a mattter of appearance. Basically there must be unity between man and work.'

Ref Beethoven and his Nephew A Psychoanalytic Study of their relationship by Edutha Sterba and Richard Sterba MD. London Dennis Dobson GB 1957 Original edition published in USA by Pantheon books.

The BBC's latest documentary Beethoven by Charles Hazlewood  below is an excellent example of a carefully edited romanticized biography that is not exactly 'wrong' but not exactly the truth.  It presents beethoven in the best possible light that distorts the facts. The last journey to Vienna that Beethoven took in an open cart in the worst of weather where he caught pneumonia that eventually killed him was his own fault. Beethoven hated his brother Johann's wife Theresa so much that he refused to travel in the same closed private coach with her and preferred an open cart even in a blizzard.  All of this episode has been carefully 'spinned' not to offend. There is nothing 'wrong' it is just not what actually happened and makes Beethoven look heroic. Beethoven wasn't.

Personally I find the difference between the music and the man fascinating. It is important not to confuse the two. Just because one is romantic heroic composer does not mean one to be admired and lauded as an example to copy in real life.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Royal Opera House Create 'Depouillment' Results 2010

 'Create' The Royal Opera Houses's composing competition has turned out to be somewhat of a damp squib. The idea was that the ROH provided some silent ballet footage to encourage composers all over the world to try their hand at composing for the ballet.

Entrants were encouraged to be 'bold' and play with images that could be shared between contestants.

There were two selections to choose from.The good news is the winner Alastare Broadly composed two beautiful original pieces and deserved to win both categories. The sad fact appears it seems there were only three entrants. Alastar and two others one of which was me! I was so enthusiastic I had three goes.

What a missed opportunity for young composers to get discovered by the Establishment.
Sometimes it is not the winning that is important but the taking part. For me to be able to enter this competition would have been considered in my youth a miracle.  I am not a theoretical musician. Like Anne Widdicombe on 'Strictly Dancing', the rescued Chilean miner in the New York Marathon and Eddie the Eagle ski jumper extraordinaire it is the participation against all odds that matters. For me composing anything is the final frontier. My music teachers including Ben Britten would be amazed.

What is disappointing by the lack of entries is that one learns so much from entering this type of competition for it gives the opportunity to 'play' and experiment in areas where one usually does not bother to go and all arts need experimentation if they are to survive. The ROH has to 'play safe' but this means that its productions become mummified, the ROH has to present the established view of the art of ballet and opera so it is essential that sometimes it encourages new blood of whatever age.

I suggested that my professional music teacher friends involved the arts should encourage their composition students to have 'a go' but it seems that perhaps the technical side  of actually getting the composition into a computer and up onto YouTube defeated them. Maybe finance was the barrier because one does need expensive equipment and a bit of know how.

Today it seems it is the oldies that are showing the way. Anne Widdicombe shows that anyone can dance at any age, David Hockney is doing electronic finger painting on iPod Touch, his 'Fresh Flowers' exhibition in Paris shows to me what a true artist he is and I on YouTube using Garageband and iMovie and indeed I am proud of my efforts of composing and image manipulation. I now really can use iMovie and Garageband.

A thorough search of YouTube only came up with the three entrants. I think under the circumstances the ROH could have given me an honorable mention. If I had been David Hockney they would.

The ROH House's website winner's announcement was a little misleading. It sounded as if they had had thousands of entries. The link that allowed visitors to see other entrants other than the winners only led to the ROH Channel where only the two winners were displayed. Where was mine?  Have I got this wrong? Where are the 'other entries'? It also has its 'comments turned off which is a YouTube 'No No'! Only Creationists do that these days! Come on ROH listen to your audience, the lack of entrants tells you that your communication skills need an overhaul if ballet and opera are to survive.

At least I can console myself that I came in second, third and fourth. Oh well, Berlioz did not win the Prix de Rome on his first try! The ROH has found a delightful new composer in Alastar Broadly.

Here is the winning entry and the second place.

Alistar Broadly's winning entry

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Climbing Roses Albertine

I have always loved Albertine, both varieties, the Proustian species and the climbing rose. It has always featured it in all my gardens starting with both grandfathers in Taplow and Edgware where it cascaded over the air raid shelter.

It also tried to blossom on the horrendous brown creosoted fence in the semi detached in Stanmore where it did its best. I did not help as I was learning to garden and I pruned it when I didn't 'oughter'. Climbing roses like to ramble and be left alone. This is easy because they have horrendous thorns and prickles.

All my neighbours dislike them and look out the rose that strays outside my garden. I can understand why because these roses can kill and I am forever resorting to the Fucidine when I forget to put on my gloves. I am old enough to know better by now.

My roses serve as a natural barbed wire barrier to the outside world. I can see why it took the prince one hundred years to find the Sleeping Beauty.

So here is a selection of my beloved climbers. Alberic Barbier is the first to flower in early November followed by Balmain, which fall over the pergola and Albertine which I am encouraging to flow over my studio. ( used to be the shed but has had an upgrade).

Wedding Day a fantastic rose as long as it does not rain, and Rambling Rector, which has few thorns but  trues to its name does get away if not tamed and lastly the old fashioned Dorothy Perkins around Christmas which not only gives the most amazing display down my drive on my side but carpets the car port like a persian rug.

All were grown from cuttings set in March.

A quich hack with the electric hedge clippers and that's it. Next year they will be even better. I love climbing roses.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Anne Widdicombe unlikely Super Star of Strictly Dancing

In the words of Joyce Grenfell 'Stately as a galleon Anne Widdicombe glides across the floor ' and has become the super star of this season of Strictly Dancing.

I am not a fan of Ms Widdicombe, I do not like her politics, I do not care for her religion but I do like her dancing. It doesn't matter that Anne can't do the steps and looks as if her partner   'was creating a crop circle' as the Daily Mail  puts it. Anne does what the other contestants fail to do she actually dances, relishes the fact she can't and doesn't pretend she can and leaves the rest of the other celebrity couples who can't dance for toffee either but are acting like mad that they can, looking silly.

Dancing of any kind is not easy. It takes years of dedication and practise. It cannot be turned on in a few hours of rehearsal even if you are a celebrity with the whole parapahnailia of a professional production team behind you. Shows like this are charades, they are a mirage, they give out the message to the 'plebes' that it doesn't matter if you haven't put in the hours necessary to become proficient anyone can do it. They can't.

Anne Widdicombe knows that this is not possible and is a breath of fresh air as she sends the whole thing up sky high. Anne has that deliciously working class English sense of humour that cuts the charlatans down to size and the audience love her for it.

She is so 'awful' that it is sheer genius.

I hope she wins.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

To buy a Honda Hatch Back or not to buy?

How do you like my new car?

Only joking but when I was young this is the type of car I wanted and I had to wait until I was 55 before I bought my first real sports car a Mazda MX5 which I adored and still adore and only had to give it up when my husbnad died because a single woman cannot really run two cars in this day and age. De trop!

So I settled for the then new Honda Civic Hybred and indeed it has been my favourite car with the expception of the MX5, which is really makes me feel 'me' inside. Young, beautiful and naughty! Well that's the impression I like to give. I look as though butter wouldn't melt in my mouth but I am rather' naughty' in the nicest possible way. I was always 'outside the door' for being cheeky at school.

At the time the Honda Hybred did not come as a hatch back and I like hatch backs as I like to be able to move smal things from place to place, like furniture to and from auction houses and theatrical costumes and paint and plants. Honda at that time did not have a Hybred hatch back so I had to settle for the saloon and although I love it I am now of an age where any car might be my last, I do not intend to drive forever as elderly drivers can be dangerous so is it time to upgrade?

I had a drive in the new Hybred Hatch Back and I must say I am sorely tempted. It has everything I want but is it too soon? You always lose money on cars whatever you do. I have been told you either change quickly or run the car into the ground but either way you lose.

I'll sleep on it. Would it make me any happier? No not really, Poorer? Yes but with the threat on inflation I have nothing much to lose. At least I get something I need.

Oh I am tempted.

Salad Days 1999 with my 'sort of sister 'Pam

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Mashenka Waltz Peter Greenwell & Gordon Langford

For fun I am orchestrating the music from a musical 'The House of Cards' I was in, in London. At the time it was a box office disaster and critical failure but it seems now to be coming rather famous as an example of professional nastiness. In the past it was possible to exclude anyone that the Establishment didn't like. In the 1960's the Establishment did not 'like gay men' and sent them to prison. The librettist Peter Wildeblood a remarkable, brilliant man had already suffered this fate along with Lord Montagu of Beaulieu.

The Players Theatre was a 'gay haven' and virtually every male involved with the production was gay at a time when being 'gay' was very dangerous. It was a very nasty time indeed. The musical was delightful, witty and sharp. It did require a certain amount of intelligence to get the full meaning which was out and out greedy capitalism is not a 'good thing'. The critics had a field day with the exception of Bernard Levin, the arch destroyer of the West End theatre,  who liked it.'Go to see this' headed his review in the Daily Mail, the only good one we got.

I loved it and so it appears does Andrew Lloyd Weber!!! who says it is one of his favorite musicals. Everyone who saw it loved it and I adored being in it but not a photo or a record remains except for some sheet music and now in hindsight it appears that the critics got it wrong. They did!

I still have the script and now I can use Garageband  I can bring the music of 'The House of Cards' to life again. I have the time and enthusiasm and at least there will be a record for posterity. I am not sure if I am allowed to do this but it is for educational reasons and nobody else is going to do it for there is absolutely not a penny in it at the moment. If I don't do it it will be forgotten. That really is one of the messages of the 'House of Cards' greed triumphs over art.

There are now only five people alive who were connected with the musical. One is the brilliant orchestral arranger Gordon Langford who has orchestrated 'Waltzing Mathilda' for Australia! I have tried to contact him but in three months I have failed to find him. In a sane world I could write it out digitally and he could arrange it far better than I. Langford gave an interview where he discussed his arrangement. He included trombones but no strings. Langford said the' Mashenka Waltz' by Peter Greenwell was worth saving and needed a full orchestral arrangement. He's absolutley right about this. Very 'Blue Danube' and 'Waltz of Flowers' genre.

 Yesterday with nothing to do I heard again 'The Mashenka Wal'tz with full orchestra and Hollywood strings for the first time since 1963. We never heard it like this at the Phoenix! In fact today 'raw' sound sounds awful. It is so Tchaikovsky! I, who could never play a note on the piano and struggled with 1st year Harmony at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and who could never see the point as I would never arrange anything, experienced the delight and power a conductor has over a symphony orchestra. A little more trombone and less timpani. Oh magic!

I could never really read traditional music. Scores that my husband poured over were a mystery to me. and yet with Garageband and a change of notation all is different. Now I can see what musicians can see and it is just so wonderful. Garageband and Midi is like the thrill I encountered with getting a Spellcheck. It allowed me to become 'normal' and enjoy musical notation.

Yesterday I added the Hollywood Stings to the trombone section and the influence of Tchaikovsky on the score became apparent to me for the very first time. That is how Tchaikovsky got his effect of majesty and power and I had achieved it on my computer with a free programme 45 years later!

I shall arrange and perform all the songs for which I have music and at least they will be there for the world to enjoy when it wakes up. It will take time. Oh why is life so short and why did I not have Garageband when I was 18!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Barbara Evans The House of Cards

Barbara Evans as 'Mashanka' in 'The House of Cards'

Yesterday I learned of the death of one of my idols Babara Evans, leading lady par excellence. She was superb, the complete musical comedy leading lady, magnificent ballet dancer, competent singer with an unusual voice, lovely actress and absolutely stunning to look at.

For some reason she never became a household name probably because she was never given a part that really suited her. Performing artists are forever searching for that vehicle that provides the opportunity for the 'performance for posterity'. It may only happen once but it has to happen. For me it was 'Flora' in Britten's TV Production of 'The Turn of the Screw'. I was so lucky. I was a very minor player but the production was so extrordinary and filmed that my 'moment' has become part of Televison and Opera history.

Barbara Evans is not so lucky. She never got the part that "did it" for her.

I first encountered Barbara when I landed my first West End Musical. the ill fated 'House of Cards' produced by the Players Theatre. I think for me this was one of the happiest productions of my life. It was such fun! It had the ingredients of everything being in a London Musical should have expect box office success and I still believe in future it could still have an after life as it is now socially relevant.

But this is a portrait of Barbra Evans and she was its leading lady. She had everything that was required to take London by storm and indeed she did but she was all wrong for the part of an innocent, young sixteen year old virginal, beautiful Russian Countess who was forced to marry a phlanderer.

Barbara was 29 stunningly beautiful, sophisticated, married, a woman of the world. Barbara radiated confidence and class, like Ave Gardener and there was no way that this woman would even would put up with the situation that 'Mashenka', for that was the pretty little countesses name, found herself in. It did not ring true and the audience sensed this immediately.

Barbara's performance was so confidently stunning and assured that the audience failed to empathize with her. It was not that the audience did not like her, no one in their right mind could not like her, it was just that they failed to connect with her. Without this vital audience connection the whole plot failed.

To say I was not captivated by Barbara Evans would be an understatement. I was just 18, very young quite experienced but not used to actually being in a West End Musical. I was just a singer in the chorus alongside Ruth Madoc of 'Hi Di Hi'. Being in a Players production was an honour as they only employed the cream of the crop but I was unaware of this at the time. This musical was my dream come true. I had arrived in the West End. Believe me this is not easy to do.

Barbara Evans was in the 'Fonteyn' mould. Barbara dressed beautifully , not a hair out of place ever. She arrived each day in another stunning coordinated outfit. Her ballet rehearsal costume was dramatic and I copied it the moment I could. It was a white grecian minutely pleated tunic over black tights. It had the 'wow factor and could she dance.

Barbara was a magnificent ballet dancer and her first entrance was a very difficult pas de deux en pointe choreographed by Terry Gilbert followed by quite a difficult song. I used to stand in the wings and marvel at her professionalism and wish I was as talented as her.

She never put a foot wrong. In the last moments the philanderer is exposed as a fraud and Barbara who had by this time fallen in love with him was forced to part. It was terribly sad and we all had our handkerchiefs out at the first time she did this at rehearsal. Real tears! We were so impressed and every night from then on she turned on real tears. What a performance!

Then one night I was standing in the wings watching and I could not believe my eyes. Standing upstage with her back to the audince Barbara took out of her bra a bottle of smelling salts, took a deep breath and her eyes filled with tears! So that was how she did it. When I tried it at home I nearly killed myself!

The House of Cards lasted six weeks at the Phoenix Theare Charing Cross Road. It had mixed reviews and it was before its time. It was about captilaism on the rampage which was not known in 1963.

Barbara Evans landed the prestigious job as resident singer on 'That was The Week That Was" taking over from Millicent Martin but again she never really came over. She appeared 'cold'. Then she was envolved in a car crash and her career came to a sudden end. She deserved better.

I never achieved the manner of a star off stage that Barbara did. Barbara never talked to me or noticed me. I was a chorus girl of no importance but I used to watch her from the wings and when my chance came I tried to be as confident as she was.

Barbara did come to see me once when I was in 'The Desert Song' where I had the privildege of bringing the house down every night with the 'IT' number. Unlike Barbara I did have the facility of making the audience 'like me' and it was really thanks to her that I did. When she arrived in my dressing room I really did not know what to say I was so astonished that my idol had come to visit me. She did not recoginse me as' Madam Vaslilav' from  'House of Cards and was surprised when I knew her. I had to remind her that I was in the chorus.

Nothing is left of 'House of Cards" so I have drawn Barbara's first costume. It was so beautiful, a froth of white lace and powder blue. It was a pity it was never filmed. I am told it still remains one of Sir Andrew LLoyd Weber's favorite musicals and it certainly is mine.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Warner Brothers versus New Zealand

God Defend New Zealand because it looks as if nobody else will!

In the fight for the 'Hobbit' it seems that Warner Brothers won hook, line and sinker.

John Key, our Nationalist Prime Minister, was no match for the Warner Bros. executives. It must have been like stealing pennies from a blind man.

I have not been following the story. I gave up on this line of politics a long time ago. I was involved with Actor's Equity in UK. Theatrical employers are so difficult to negotiate with as I found out on repeated occasions. They always did the artists and they always won.

Big or small made no difference. The big ones were the worst. My negotiations over playing 'Flora' in Brittens 'Turn of the Screw' for Aldeburgh were classic.

First The Royal Opera House never told me I had got the job and it was only when I saw my name on the handbill I thought I better find out. I had to deal with John Tooley, now Sir John Tooley, knighthoods seem to come easily after years of ripping off artists. I was sixteen.

No apology was forthcoming for not being told and I was offered £12 for four weeks work, one week in London and three in Aldeburgh. I was given my train fare, 3rd class, but no living allowance. This salary even in those days was terrible.

Even at sixteen I knew I could not do the job on this money and I protested only to be told that Covent Garden had forty little girls lined up for this role so I could take it or leave it. I said with great presence of mind I'd 'think about it!' The man I was dealing with was old enough to know better but he couldn't resist ripping me off.

For once my father decided not to come to the party. He flatly refused to sub me. So I had to ring up Stephen Reiss, the manager at Aldeburgh and tell him I was not able to do the job. Stephen nearly exploded as rehearsals were only about two weeks away. He said he would see what he could do.

Three hours later John Tooley, I refuse to call him 'Sir' even to this day, rang with a better offer of £33. Still not nearly enough but if I was careful I could live. Fifty years later on reading a biography of Britten I found that he had auditioned forty 'Floras and never found one. If I had only known that at the time. Covent Garden were stuck!

The next was Bernard Delfont of 'Stop the World'. There were six 18 year old girls in the chorus and we were touring for weeks. After Liverpool we were given 3/6 for our train fare to the next town and told to meet up again in a week's time in Morecombe which was about 30 miles away.

When as Equity deputy I protested I was told that in the contract the management could have a week out without paying us. The orchestra all got paid and their fares to and from London. I was simply told that I should learn to read my contract. The six of us were stranded with no money. The tiny salary we got just about saw us through a week.

My parents paid for everyone's fare to London. The show filled a 3,500 seater theatre every night for six performances. There were 12 in the cast plus orchestra. Bernard Delfont must have made a fortune that week and he couldn't pay his artists.

BBC extra days never paid up. If you complained you were put on a black list.

Tom Arnold/ Bernard Delfont Nottingham Panto Christmas Eve grid fell down because the show was too heavy. Nobody was killed but the whole cast told 'Act of God' show cancelled and we could all go home. We had had to rehearse for ten days without pay and would lose three months work.

To my surprise Equity did nothing but sort of agreed with the management. I recall timidly putting my hand up and saying that I did not think overloading the grid so that it collapsed was 'An Act of God' rather an 'Act of stupidity'. The silence that followed was deafening. We were told to come back in three hours while they sorted this out.

In two days over Christmas Delfont had the grid restored and we opened without a dress rehearsal on Boxing Day. They would have had to pay us all for three months if they had had to cancel. Needless to say I never got another job with Delfont or Tom Arnold.

In a West End musical the donkey got more than the leading lady, me and the chorus boys which sort of gives you an idea of one's social standing as an artist. Though to my surprise I was paid the same salary as the head of The English National Theatre whose name escapes me at the moment so I must have been fairly well paid at the time.

I won't even start to tell you my saga with the opera here in Auckland. That is for another day but NZ Equity rolled over to the management with the memorable line 'That NZ Equity had to work with these people'! I was sacked what for has yet to be discovered. Needless to say the chorus did not get paid although my production made the opera a small fortune. I am told the lady in charge of the opera  eventually landed up in prison but I do not know for certain. I still have her affidavit which makes interesting reading. I believe the penalty for perjury is seven years.

Will NZ rolling over to the Big Boys do any good? Hope so in the short term but I fear it won't. Warner Bros. and MGM are in dire financial straights according to the New York Times so maybe they do not want this production at this moment and that gave them the edge in negotiation. They were only too happy to cancel and blame NZ. We shall see. Watch this space.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Last Station Sonja Tolstoy

This is one of the saddest real photos I have ever seen. I saw the moving picture of 1910 in black and white on my grandfather's television in about 1949 along with Belsen and George Bernard Shaw. TV was pretty basic in those days and one saw everything with little or no editing or placement. Few had TV sets.

This shows Countess Sonya Tolstoy peering in the window of the waiting room at Astapovo station where her husband Leo Tolstoy the novelist lay dying of pneumonia while in the process of running away from her. The film ordered by Monsieur Pathe  was the pre curser of the photographic preditors so common today and depicted vividly this poor woman who had given her life to Tolstoy and his 13 children, five of whom died, shut out from the final curtain.

The film showed her slowly walking along the long platform and eventually peering in the window on tip toe. I remember the commentator said she was denied admittance but it seems now that she did get just ten minutes with him. I wonder if she did or if it looks better for posterity. Anyway at the time I thought she didn't.

It took a long search. The film is not to be found on YouTube. I expect Tolstoy fans would find it disturbing as I did years ago but I did eventually find it on this web site The Thinking  Housewife along with a well written article which has saved me a lot of effort.

One comment on  the blog I think said it all ' 'Wife sacrifices a lot, husband takes her for granted and ultimately treats her like garbage.  Where’s the greatness in that?'

There is no doubt that Sonja Tolstoy's contribution was undervalued by society. She was made out to be the evil villainess where in fact she was a young innocent girl who was used.

I realized this at the age of eight. I have to thank the BBC for my entire education as I sure did not get it at school. Leo Tolstoy and 'War & Peace' were never mentioned and yet I had read it by the age of ten as it was in my grandfather's library. I read it knowing how the author had treated his wife. The BBC news item had mentioned how the countess had copied out the entire work eight times!

This picture made a lasting impression on me. It colored my life. At the time I had no idea of just how difficult being a woman in a man's world was and as I found out that women were not wanted on voyage and were to be seen and not heard I thought of Countess Tolstoy and her bravery in front of the world of showing how a woman could be so publicly humiliated and yet retain a certain dignity.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Fallen idols Julie & Julia

Labour Weekend, public holiday in NZ and for me a time to catch up with the latest film scene on DVDs as I am unable to go to the cinema. I have a feast.

Julie & Julia, the tale of a thirty year old woman, Julie Powell, coming to terms with life by cooking her way through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking' 545 dishes in one year and writing about it in a blog. Based on a true story the young Julie  idolizes her mentor. Julia Child becomes her icon and inspiration.

At the end of the film the young Julie is told that that  her idol has indeed read her blog and far from being impressed grateful and encouraging, hated it! Not one good word to say for it! This must have been crushing  and proves once again that one should never, never meet one's idols in real life because the disappointment can be devastating.

To be fair Julia Child was 90 and died that year and we all are not at our best in the last year of life but it must have hurt.

I found out this horrible fact of life when I met my icon face to face. Margot Fonteyn  lived up to all expectations of a famous icon and delivered a crushing blow from which I have never recovered. She had the graciousness to apologize later but the damage was done.  Idol after idol has fallen off the pedestal of admiration in real life so much so that I now refuse to meet my idols even if the opportunity is offered.

Cary Grant was one I reused to meet. He lived in Bristol and always visited the Bristol Hippodrome when in his home town. Such a visit was planned when I was hoofing the boards there. I absented  myself from the occasion. As Cary Grant said of "Cary Grant" 'I'd love to meet Cary Grant in real life too'.

Celebrities are manufactured like plastic pegs. In real life they have very little in common with the public expectation.

So who would I run a mile from meeting these days? Well Richard Dawkins, my admiration for his courage to speak out against silliness knows no bounds is one and God the Father another and I don't think I should like to meet the real Jesus Christ either. All three might prove to be less than  my expectations might desire.

I think Heaven too might be a big disappointment  but that is a place I know that I shall never visit. 

Take my advise never meet your idols!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Laura Bush & the Taliban

One should never say 'never! I never thought I should  be  writing something in praise of  Laura Bush but I have to take my hat off to her and say how much I admire her courage to support the women of Afghanistan.

It must be hard for her to speak out in her position as a president's wife should be seen and not heard but she has and she is so right to do so. The plight of the women in Afghanistan is pitiful. They take the brunt of all the agro that  has been going on for decades.

Afghanistan is really a lost cause. Like Aldous Huxley in 'Brave New World' with the reservations, Afghanistan needs to be ring fenced off and allowed to get on with it. In fact I think it is the only answer with one proviso all the women are removed first. Let the men fight it out. In one generation the whole thing will be over.

Afghanistan may not have been perfect under the USSR but at least it was secular, peaceful and women were educated. In 1960 it was a pleasant place to visit and in fact I was invited by my college chum Liz Himsworth whose father  was British Ambassador  to Afghanistan at the time to spend the summer in the Kyber Pass. I remember I was so impressed that she sent letters to him via 'the diplomatic bag'. I couldnt raise the £92 fare. I wish I had now.

Thanks to the USA who assisted the Taliban the Russians left and the rest is the catastrophic history. It is ironic that the USA is now in the same position as the Russians and the Brits and has to get out.

I am sure every woman in Afghanistan would have preferred the Russians and now the USA to stay but 'good on yeh Laura' on this one I am right behind you.