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.