Thursday, May 27, 2010

Off to Bohemia!


My discontent has melted like an iceblock in a glass of whisky..
Even though I am quite sure that a number 18 commex baby blue bus purposely tried to crush me against a wall this morning, I am – as of lunchtime -- in a forgiving and expansive mood towards even them.
Now, I realise that in the month I’ve been in Jersey I have really written very little about food. Give or take my panegyric on ‘Relish’. This doesn’t mean I have been picnicking in my room at Bay View every night, far from it, but …
Well, the truth of it is that, as soon as I got here, I headed straight back to the neighbouring Roseville Bistro, which I had patronised nights on end last time round, and threw myself back into dining on their crab cakes, scallops, chowder and sea bass. This punctuated by my Festival nights on steak sarnies at the Royal Yacht Hotel.
But then I was shaken out of my unadventurous regime. One night I had a Roseville crab cake that was decidedly ‘yesterdayish’ in feel, and then my friend Ann-Marie took me out to dinner at The Green Olive, where I partook of a nicely adventurous sea-bass dish with curry, and realised that hey! with my time here rapidly shrinking, I really ought to be getting out and about a bit more in Jersey resto-land.

So I started. First of all, my new guide and mentor, Alex-the-violin, and I headed off to The Olive Branch, a decidedly superior Italian restaurant within walking distance of my base. I had a really good petto di pollo with peppers and asparagus, plus (quite a lot of) a tasty Saint-Emilion ‘05 ... and I thought: I can do with more of this. So I have now been back thrice more, and sampled a very cheerful seafood spaghetti, nice pink chicken livers and, best of all, some grand ravioli. To the chef’s horror, I asked for these without the proposed coating of tomato sauce .. ‘but they will not taste of anything!’ he cried, so I allowed the (very nice) sauce on the side. But I was right: of course the ravioli taste of something .. ricotta, spinaci .. and just a little dab of sauce (rather than a drench) finishes it off nicely!

Alex, I decided, was obviously to be trusted on ‘restaurants to Kurt’s taste’, so I suggested another outing, and thus – on his advice -- we ended up today lunching at Bohemia. Now I am often wary of ‘the best restaurant in town’ (for thus is Bohemia generally described here) and for that reason – and its rather forbidding exterior -- I hadn’t ventured there before. What an ass I have been. WHAT an ass! I am just back from The Best Lunch I Have Eaten in Yonks.

To start with, the company was tops: Alex-the-violin and Katie-the-viola (I did rather feel I ought to have a ‘cello) are great table-mates. Which is, as you know, a special skill. And then came the menu..
Well, my knees jellied the moment I saw the first item: scallops and sweetbreads with .. oh heck, I forget what else was in there .. some kind of delicious pea, and honey-in-the-comb … anyway, we all ordered this evident taste treat, and I photographed it before delicately destroying it.

It was (accompanied by a glass of chilled white Burgundy .. premier cru, of necessity) quite a sensational taste treat. I adore sweetbreads, and to have them light and crisp and somehow .. ‘concentrated’ ... instead of muffled in a sauce or gravy .. ah!

For the next course, it was a choice between ‘roasted local maize-fed chicken’ and fish. Katie went chicken, Alex went fish .. and finally (on the waiter’s advice) I did too.. What can I say? it turned out to be quite as photographable as the entrée.. and equally as good! Oh why doesn’t everyone trust in coriander…? And coconut! And… but enough. Feast your eyes… and envy!

I should add that between and before these two dishes, we were served with some totally delightful friandises: delicate nibbles of cheese and pastry, a tiny toasty dip, a marvel made from Pimms and spun-yoghurt, and, before desert (the others had a zingy lemon soufflé with a very special rouleau of coffee ice-cream .. and I pinched a little), we were given a most delicious melange of mandarin ... goodness, words fail me. But my famously small appetite didn’t for a second!

As you will understand, Bohemia is not a place you go when you are simply hungry. It’s a place you go when you want to experience food. A joy of life to which I’ve treated myself too little since St Paul de Vence days.
And since, under the general effect of the whole meal, I’ve forgotten far too many of the details of the eye-boggling and stomach-seducing menu, there’s only one thing to do. Yes, I’ve booked in for a return lunch tomorrow… because I’m pretty sure it will be a goodly while before I find another restaurant, another meal, as good as today’s… and, after my too-long ‘retirement’ and my slow Jersey start, I intend to make up for lost time.

Chapter Two. Alex and I went back. And this time we threw everything to the winds .. especially the set luncheon menu .. and we dined a la carte with all the trimmings -- muscadet and French champagne .. through the longest and loveliest lunch I can remember eating in centuries. Four hours of it. I couldn't resist repeating the scallop and sweetbread starter, then daringly (for a New Zealander), whilst Alex went for turbot and veal, ordered Welsh lamb. It was a revelation, the choice part of four different cuts .. and hooray! those peas and sweetbreads as accompaniment (the chef must have been blogdropping) along with sweet baby Jersey potatoes. For dessert we chose a shared 'little bit of everything' on the menu: so there were yesterday's soufflé and ice-cream in chocolate, along with something delicious of white chocolate and ice-cream, the lightest sliver of carrot cake you can imagine, a black chocolate slice with pistache and .. to finish the chef's celebrated treacle tart. It was so light I'm sure it could have floated off the table. It was a foodie top treat ... thank you 'Bohemia', you have put the icing (or should I say the treacle tart?) on my grand time in Jersey...

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Back on with the boots


One thing about flying to Europe, rather than taking my old trips by ship, is that I miss out on all those walks I used to do in the Pacific islands. 10, 20, even 30 km stints in my inimitable flat-out style and in my inimitable (who would want to imitate it?) headscarf-and-short-shorts attire.
You can’t really do that in Berlin and, well, the alternative entertainment in Jersey this year has just meant more cars and buses and much less walking. Yesterday, however, with life having calmed a bit and the sun being even a bit too aggressively out, seemed like a good moment to get back into gear. So, off I went.
One way and another, I’ve seen a good deal of the Isle of Jersey in three visits here, and even though much of it bears re-visiting, I fancied something new. So, on Geoff of Bay View’s advice, I took a bus to St Brelade. Goodness, I am glad I did. Because St Brelade is delightful. It reminded me of the South of France – in the days when the South of France was delicious and not a concrete excuse for the Playa del Whatsit. And the beach!

After the beaches I had seen on the way to Gorey (not great) and that at St Aubin (OK), the beach at St Brelade was a New Zealander’s joy: beautiful expansive beige sands, clean and groomed, with just a little of the traditional British seaside paraphernalia, rimmed by wonderfully kept gardens… I could only wonder why this wasn’t one of Europe’s Rich Spots. But it isn’t : the clientele seems to be more Blackpool (and aged) than Monte Carlo ... well, good for them, I say, and if I lived in England I would much rather come here than fly off to the Playa del Anything. The natural advantages are grand and only the fact of the road running right in front of the beach and gardens distracts from its glamour.

I strolled up to the ancient church for a panoramic view, tried a ‘path to something Bay’ and was met by a PRIVATE ROAD sign, so instead I strolled along the seafront to Ouaisné and its Smuggler’s Inn (where I lunched with Ann-Marie two years ago), and thence to the sweeping bay of St Aubin, and finally after a couple of hours under the beating sun, back to St Helier, a very cold shower and two litres of milk.
An excellent and charming pipe-opener.
Just how much my pipes were to be opened, I did not know.
Flushed with my first day’s success, this morning I got more adventurous and, again following Geoff’s advice, headed for the number four bus to the north of the island and its cliff top paths.

A sign saying Wolf’s Caves dragged me along a small road to ... no caves, but a derelict tearoom and several disappointed British tourists who’d fallen into the same trap of nomenclature. But a sign said ‘cliff track to Belle Nuit’ which seemed suitably surreal, so off I strode. It’s actually a little hard to stride on cliff tracks, but this one was well-made, well-kept and, before too long, the little bay of Belle Nuit hove to. I popped into its café for an excellent cheese and pickle sandwich and iced ginger beer, and thought, this is great, I’ll do some more.

It was a decision which was to be heavy with consequences.

I knew the next bit of cliff-top, ending at Bouley Bay, would be longer .. and some folk I met told me it was ‘pretty up and down’ if one took the upper and obviously more scenic track. But, hey, I’ve climbed and tramped all sorts in my life ... so off I set. ‘Up and down’ was putting it mildly, and the underfoot was less good than the first tranche, but what riled me, gently at first and then progressively more sternly, was the lack of signposting. When you get to a fork in the track, and there are two or more possible choices, you need to be told which way is which. No such luck. And this not once but dozens of times. And, finally, I took a wrong turning, and got utterly benighted amongst the tall trees.
Come on Jersey. It’s not difficult! You don’t need posh signs. A blaze on a tree, a few red-painted tin-lids, two sticks and a bit of string to stop the walker climbing 400m to end in a farmer’s field… any old tramper can tell you. These are advertised walks, and there were some fairly elderly people walking them: if they ended up taking the same wrong turning as I, you could have a dead body on your hands. In my case, you had a very grumpy, chest-pained and sore-footed one.
Finally, after an hour of wandering, I orientated on a chimney which became a house which became a track which became a road which had a bus stop. But a which-way bus stop? Back to St Helier or on into utter wilderness?
Well, a nice Bulgarian man walked by and led me a couple of kilometres to the only bus stop he knew which led to town, and he left me there to await a reasonably imminent bus. He was walking the stretch: he was going for a job and hadn’t the money for the bus. He was right, for the bus never came. Commex buses of Jersey: you SUCK! Finally, I gave up and hurtled down the hill in a now totally black mood. Jersey had finally let me down, and with a wallop. Anger gave me fleetness of foot, and I caught up the 20 minute handicap on my amazed pal just before St Helier … we shook hands goodbye in the familiar purlieus of Rouge Bouillon (and yes, I made sure he had the bus fare home .. just in case a bus decided to run) and I stormed back to Bay View, a shower, a footbath, the usual litres of milk and a crash-out, promising I would NOT write this blog till I had calmed down, and had my dinner..

So I am now back from ‘The Olive Branch’ -- of which more anon -- after ravioli and a little iced white wine .. and I am calm, yes, I am quite, quite calm, thank you. And I will not write to the council and the bus company and the St Helier newspapers until tomorrow.
Of course, they may read this..
Now, where shall I go tomorrow that do’n’t need a bloody number four bus…

Saturday, May 22, 2010

La fête de la mer


The most beautiful, sun-sodden day. And that cold breeze that has haunted us the past weeks all packed away, hopefully for the season.
It was not a day to be ‘resting’, and Gorey was advertising a ‘Fête de la mer’. Well, any excuse to visit Gorey is a good one, especially in the sun, so down to Liberation bus station I toddled and joined the queues waiting for the number one bus. Such queues, that when the bus came it was not able nearly to take us all.

Soon after midday I arrived on Gorey pier, and to be sure the town was ‘en fête’. The quay was lined with stalls, thronged with people, and there were my ‘old friends’, Premier Brass, tootling their stuff merrily on the bandstand.

Down the quay I wandered, casseroling under the sunshine, past the food vendors – seafood, thus the title ‘fête de la mer’ -- and the odd tent selling knick-knacks and face-painting, feeling decidedly at peace with the world. Truthfully, the seafood didn’t look extraordinarily wonderful to this sea-foodie New Zealander, although I was distinctly tempted by some evidently fresh-caught mackerel being expertly manipulated by one young man

However, in the end sentiment got the better of me. The very last stall on the pier advertised ‘moules frits’ and memories of Lille, of Jean-Baptiste and Didier and Ali glid into my head … so much so that I spoke to the stall-holder in French. He looked at me from blank Portuguese eyes and I thought, oh Kurt! Anyone who advertises ‘Fete de mer’ and ‘moules frits’ evidently isn’t kosher French!
But the ‘frits’ were bonnes, and the moules – those little sweetish ones that are so unlike the huge juicy Marlborough mussel .. were pretty good too, and a pint of icy Stella was the perfect complement. And the spot … nestled under Mont Orgeuil looking back at the gaiety of the Festival with Premier Brass (until, alas, they were replaced by bongo drums) singing in the distance, was splendid.

I took a little wander through pretty Gorey Village and then joined up with Charlotte and Jennie, and their friends Tom (87 years old and with tales to tell of faraway places and the war), Tara and Chris at a table by the square (now featuring morris dancers!) …
A couple more pints slipped down easily, my freshly re-juvenated number one haircut sizzled ... and then, all too soon, it was time to head for that enormous bus queue again.

There may not be much to it, this Festival of the Sea, but on a day like today, with sunshine and friends at the party, there can’t have been very many better places in the empire to be than on Gorey pier.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Jersey, you have to love it...


Yesterday, given the expansive life of entertainment I’ve been living the past weeks, I decided to commit a blob day. And blob I duly did. Come 4.30pm, I decided that the blobbiest thing to do on the dinner front would be one of my ‘picnic-in-my-room’s, so I slipped on my espadrilles and pants and headed for the St Helier fish market. No, I was not buying fish, but the pretty old market is where is situated one of my favourite Jersey spots: the ‘Relish’ delicatessen. There, like almost nowhere else I know, can one buy all those extra special little charcuterie, fromagerie and liquid treats which make life worth eating.
The wickedest pork and liver pâté en croûte (once a year only), a splendid pâté de campagne (rrrrough!), some delicious French saucisson (I must ask the name), a wedge of good old Pyrénées cheese – it never lets you down – a sprinkling of black olives .. and .. well, I was going to have a wineless picnic for once, but Alan passed me a glass and said ‘try this’, and I succumbed instantly. Well, I did resist a second or two, for the wine was not chilled, and there was no way I could get it chilled in time for supper. But this is Jersey! ... the fishmonger opposite produced a plastic bag full of fresh crushed ice, and my bottle of Marquis de Goulaine muscadet (2008, gold-medal) walked home in what would be my improvised ice-bucket for the evening.
Next, across the road to the old town market hall to buy a petit pain to accompany my goodies … the baker was getting ready to close, and so with my 47p bread roll he gave me two gratis pastries! This is Jersey.
So, back I trundled to Bay View, room 12, and here is my picnic. Actually, it doesn’t look nearly as good as it tasted! Perhaps it’s the colour scheme: no greens…

Actually, I nearly didn’t make it back to Room 12. As I walked down from the town there was a sudden explosion in my rear ear. A car had blown a tyre. Alas! the silly driver, instead of pulling up, decided to continue, but with – of course—not too much control over his vehicle. I would imagine that he missed me, on the pavement, by no more than 15 centimetres ..
Happily, he did miss, and thus I didn’t miss my picnic..
Needless to say, my ratio of eyes to stomach was way out and so, guess what, today I had to head up to ‘Relish’ again. Why? Why, to get a fresh bottle of Marquis de Goulaine, and a fresh petit pain from my now 'by appointment' baker, to go with my copious leftovers! Won't be going out tonight, again ...

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Inside-Out Dozing Duck


I thought this little feller (girl?) deserved a little post all to him/herself. Imagine sleeping in that position -- head on back-to-front and feet sticking upwards, somewhere above the ribcage..
He opened his dozy eyes at my flash .. but I promise he was sleeping like that.
Takes all kinds...

He is officially not known as an Inside-Out Duck, but much more prosaically a White-backed Duck.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Durrell .. the name says everything

Well, Jersey keeps on coming up with one treat after another..

Today I visited what is rightly nowadays named ‘Durrell’. It has had previous names .. variations on the Jersey Wildlife Trust theme ... but now it bears the name of its famous founder, the animal conservator and best-selling author Gerald Durrell. I grew up with the books of Gerald Durrell. I still think My Family and other Animals one of the funniest books I have ever read, and I can’t remember how many times I read The Bafut Beagles (I still have the copy on my thinned to 5% bookshelves) and then, of course, every single Durrell book thereafter.
I don’t quite understand how, on my two previous visits to Jersey, I didn’t get round to ‘doing’ the zoo which Durrell created here ... the story related memorably in his books… but maybe fate was just telling me to wait.
One of our party at the famous Guernsey race-meeting of 2 May (see earlier blog) was Dr Lee Durrell, Gerald Durrell’s widow and … well, as a result, I headed happily out thataway today on the number 23 bus for a rendez-vous at what I suppose one has to call a ‘zoo’.
‘Zoo” somehow to me means animals in cages, and that is not at all what Durrell is. Lee gave me a wonderful guided tour (not to mention lunch in the very agreeable café of the establishment) of the various installations – from bears to monkeys to snakes to all those fascinating little fellers that Gerry D tells of in his books -- and my camera didn’t stop clicking for three and a half hours. They are irresistible.
I’m not going to talk too much here, I just intend to fill a page with pictures .. birds, monkeys, even a snake .. but I have to tell you first what Durrell is. It isn’t London Zoo. The birds fly around in towering pagodas of netting, the monkeys and the bears play in wide open chunks of nature (with attached bedroom suites!), only the reptiles are behind the traditional glass (thank goodness!) and the littlest monkeys and tiny bestioles in anything resembling a cage, yet cages flooded with greenery..
The ‘zoo’ also doesn’t exist just for itself. And this I didn’t know. It is really a showcase for the work that the Foundation created by Gerald Durrell, and now headed by Lee, is doing in nearly twenty countries around the world: saving all sorts of threatened species in Madagascar, Mauritius, South America, the Caribbean and elsewhere from the destruction of their natural habitat and also from unscrupulous (German?) animal dealers. There are field stations of Durrell around the world, while, at home, the Foundation educates, training future animal researchers and keepers in the tradition established by Gerald Durrell. It is a huge enterprise, and the lovely animal park I visited today is just the tip of its iceberg.
It is also quite beautiful, not too big to be enjoyed in an afternoon, and, well, come and see for yourself ..
You have to come out of this living gallery of birds and beats with your little favourites. The meerkats are top of the pops right now because of the Lion King, but my choices, I think, would be the frog that is called a chicken (and, alas, in its home country eaten like one), some of the incredible ‘ugly’ Chinese-mandarin faced monkeys and a most beautiful bird from Madagascar … but you can judge for yourself. Here – beginning with Lee snapped beside the memorial statue of Gerry, and going on to species whose names I would never remember if I tried -- is a volley of pictures from my day at Durrell! And I’ve saved my favourite Malagache bird for last!
Lee has supplied me with ID for all these lovely creatures, so in order we have the Nicobar pigeon, the Mindanao bleeding heart dove, the eyelash viper (sounds like something out of Absolutely Fabulous), some Chilean flamingos, a Sumatran orangutan, a western lowland gorilla, a gaggle of mothers and baby ring-tailed lemura, the sweet Alaotran gentle lemur and a Madagascar crested ibis. How about that!

PPS there are more, more, more but how many pix can a blogger stand?!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Back to the races!

After the races in Guernsey .. the races in Jersey…

Well, there are some similarities (notably, the horses involved) but there are also big differences. To start with, Jersey Racecourse is a permanent affair, not a modified golf-course, and it has some permanent facilities. As I grumbled last year, however, it doesn’t have even a smidgin of a grandstand (apparently local planning refuses a building on this ‘rural’ site!), and the only sheltered, seated area is the Members’ Marquee.

The answer? Become a member for the day! Courtesy of Charlotte, the club secretary, that is exactly what I did, and as a result enjoyed a first-class buffet luncheon (one of the best I’ve ever had on a racetrack) sprinkled with a little rosé wine, and mingled with interpolated sorties to the Green Hill beside the race-track to take in the five races on the programme.
The races today were a bit more substantial than at Guernsey, the club having succeeded in putting together some 7 and 8 horse fields, but what was amazing was the number of extremely close finishes. Since the stock of horses here is limited, animals of various ages, experience and talent have to line up together, and the handicapping is consequently wide. It is also first-class, as the close finishes proved. And then I discover that said handicapping is done by a gentleman in … Nigeria!

What was the same was the weather. As in Guernsey, we started very cold-windily, and boy! up on those cliffs the wind can really whiffle, but as the day progressed the sun elbowed its way through the clouds and leaving the comfort of the Marquee became less of an arctic experience..

The highpoint of the day? The company! Charlotte’s mother, Jennie, brought me to the racetrack and I lunched with her and her circle of close friends. I felt quite swell there, in my collar and tie, sharing a table with six of the loveliest ladies you could hope to meet on a world trip. Thanks so much, ladies, it was grand!

The lowpoint of the day. Greek Theatre. No, I don’t mean al fresco drama .. though that’s what it was. It is a horse. A horse which should not be allowed on a racetrack. It had to be walked to the start, and whilst the other runners waited, its jockey attempted to mount and was several times tipped off and out. When finally the severely delayed start was given, the beast again threw its rider, turned tail, raced back to the birdcage, messily hurdled the rails and ran for its box. It was a disgraceful display. I hope the trainer is roundly berated or worse, and the horse banned. Racing can’t afford episodes like that. One of my ladies was quite upset.

But even Greek Theatre and the wind couldn’t spoil a really splendid day, and it was very contentedly that I curled up in the back of Jennie’s car to return, at the end of affairs, to the Bay View .. in the company of another new friend. This is Bailey who sweetly dribbled down the back of my neck all the way to home and a Very Early Night.

An Evening with Lord Nelson

After gorging myself on orchestral music through the Liberation Festival, it felt strange, at the end, to return to my accustomed rather unorchestral world. But last night I grabbed the chance for just one more bit of Jersey music: a concert given at the Methodist Centre by the Jersey Chamber Orchestra and the Jersey Festival Choir, conductor: David Lawrence… and, do you know, in some ways I enjoyed this one the most of all.
It doesn’t take much analysis to work out why. Firstly, the two main pieces on the programme were vocal ones – and of course vocal music is where I come from – and secondly, like the soprano-in-the-marquee concert, it was held in a room rather than in a theatre or concert hall. And, as I’ve already said, I like that. I like being in there amongst or shoulder-to-shoulder with the music, rather than listening down on it from afar.

It was a grand programme too. As an hors d’oeuvre the pretty Elgar Serenade for Strings which everyone should know and I sort of didn’t. Then a modern piece: a cantata ‘A Great and Glorious Victory’ by Jonathan Willcocks, based on Nelson’s Victory at Trafalgar and the storm that followed it. I am wary of most of what is called ‘modern’ music. I find it simply unapproachable. But this was anything but. This would have to appeal to anyone. Ringing melody, pounding timpani and cymbals, soaring fiddles, a battle and a storm and a requiem, a choir alternately booming and calm and a splendidly dramatic tenor soloist (Neil Jenkins) to sing ‘Thank God I have done my duty’. Jolly good stuff and highly entertaining. It even has a singalong and .. yes, I did. Quietly.
The second half was what I had really come to hear. Haydn’s so-called Nelson Mass (which actually has nothing to do with Nelson) comes occasionally into my Victorian Vocalists book, so I was keen to hear it.
It, too, was enjoyable. It is strange. When Rossini’s Stabat Mater (one of my favourites) came out it was criticised for being insufficiently devotional and too theatrical, but here, in this earlier piece, I didn’t find anything of the devotional – except of course the text of the mass – either. Although Haydn is, of course, less theatrical than Rossini. And he doesn’t lean on his soloists, there are no ‘arias’ here, the solo voices are never on show for a stretch. And that, actually, leads me to my only complaint of the night. Soloists and choir, got up, sat down, got up, sat down, so often I got giddy. And almost wanted to laugh. But everyone sang well, and the piece is decidedly attractive ..
The eveing did, however, finish with a little humorous note. Haydn’s Mass came to an unshowy end and .. nothing .. the conductor had to hiss ‘that’s it’ to us in the front rows to start the applause. I suppose we should have known from the words, but the choir had sung ‘Amen’ so much during the course of the evening, I guess we were taking nothing for granted!
So, another super evening of music on the isle of Jersey, and a small surprise. It wasn’t the piece I’d come to hear that I enjoyed the most, but for heaven’s sake a piece of 21st century music!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

My babies are growing up without me!

I am sitting in the Jersey sunshine, with a glass (its a vase actually, my room didn't have a big glass) of iced Guinness and a delicious picnic made up of French cheeses, Italian sausage, Spanish olives, an amazing local rabbit pâté, sourdough damsels and tiny rolls from the market bakery ..
and down in the damp, autumnal murk of Motukarara, New Zealand, Lucie and D'Arcy are growing up without me!

After my meeting with Jack in Sydney, I headed this way towards Berlin, whilst he headed back the other way to New Zealand and, of course, while he was there he made his way out to the Edmonds establishment to visit our two babes. Well, just looking at the photos he has posted on his blog (and of which I've lifted one!), we are soon going to have to stop calling them babes. Last time I saw them trotting their stuff, and it was not that many months ago, they were awkward beginners.. and now! Well, look at the pair of them trotting stylishly along behind an older horse...

Since that day, they have finished this session of their upbringing, and they are back at Gerolstein with Wendy being tended with the best of everything and anything, because next time they come back to the Edmonds barn it is going to be Getting Serious time. We may yet be the proud owners of a couple of the very first Love You progeny to race in New Zealand..!

Monday, May 10, 2010

A Festival Finale

Sunday, and the final day of the Jersey Music Festival. After last night’s adventures in city square, I struggled slightly to get under way this morning, but our first event was a Yacht Cruise Concert – a delightful concept – so I hauled myself into gear and headed down – past the Liberation Day entertainments in that same square where I had been so liberationally entertained the night before – to the quayside, only to find that the event had been blown off. Cancelled by the coastguards because of wind and choppy seas. What a shame. Nothing to do but head home again, past the square and what I’m sure was a recital by a reincarnation of the Beverley Sisters, to my Bay View nest. En route, I glanced worriedly at the sky. Tonight’s grande finale to the Festival, the multi-concert on the bastions and reaches of Mont Orgeuil was pretty much an outdoor affair and, well, for spring, the weather was not exactly springlike.. In my usual position of ‘no wheels’, I thought maybe I would walk to Gorey (10km) so I set out (muffled up in every bit of warm clothing I am carrying with me, Turkish woolly cap included!) down the coast. Before I had gone halfway, however, a nice pale blue bus hove to, and I completed the trip in comfort.

Mont Orgeuil is a magnificent fortress, magnificently restored, which looms impressively over the sometime fishing village of Gorey. I have, in my time, spent many hours exploring the castle’s interiors and exteriors, and I’ve described and photoed it lengthily in this blog, but I was still glad to arrive early so as to have one more chance to wander around its rooms and its ramparts. It was a brisk wander, for tonight a cuttingly chill wind was snarling round the upper reaches where, alas, several performances were scheduled to take place.

I sat by the ramparts, with a nice egg and cress sandwich, and listened to the sounds of the Jersey Youth Choir and the St Ouen’s Ladies Choir whispering sweetly forth from the marquee on the lower reaches, and I braved the thankfully fading gusts of the middle reach to listen to five rather more-than-fortyish gents with brass instruments (The Brassoles) enjoying themselves in arrangements of pieces from ‘Frère Jacques’ to ‘Summertime’, before, at seven o’clock, it was time for the main event of the evening: an Operatic Concert by the Eden Sinfonia and soprano Elizabeth Watts, in the main marquee. I sighed. I was back on safe, home ground: vocal music! Tonight I would be able to be as splendidly authoritative in my remarks as my new friends Michael and Martin had been all along.

In fact, it was a shared concert. Daniel Cohen and his orchestra, the Eden Sinfonia, gave us some gentle and charming Handel and Glück, and then, rather surprisingly in a so-called operatic concert and a section otherwise devoted to serious classical-period music, a twentieth century ‘Ballade and Sephardic Melody’ by Israeli composer, Paul Ben-Haim. I found it confusing and weird in parts, but it gets to you in a most insidious way, and the lady ‘cello soloist certainly made the most of her opportunities in some lovely exposed passages. 

In the second part, the orchestra gave the rather long (for this type of concert) ‘Salzburg Symphony Number One’, and pleased everyone mightily with a delicate playing of the Cavalleria Rusticana intermezzo. I haven’t really said anything about the wonderfully fluid Mr Cohen, and I should have. At twenty-seven, he is obviously a big rising talent (go on, tell me he is risen already!) and another one I’ll be ‘following’ when I leave here. 

And, now, the nitty gritty. Miss Elizabeth Watts. I like a concert in a room, in ‘parlour’ conditions. A concert where the singer is just a few metres from you, and you get to hear the voice as it really is. In the nude, so to speak, with nothing that can be hidden. Well, this wasn’t a room … it was a tent. Miss Watts had to enter and exit from an adjoining office and, when singing, compete with the billowing and flapping of the tent roofing, with the giggle and gaggle of children outside, and any of a hundred other distractions. Did she pout and make excuses? Not a bit of it, she just gave us a winning grin and got on with it: and the result was a treat. Elizabeth Watts has been a serious prize-winner in her time, and it is easy to see why. Not only does she have a lovely, young, fresh soprano voice, flexible and well under control, but she has the personality and the warmth (without which life and listening can be very boring) to go with that voice, a choice sense of humour, and – in a ‘room’ situation like this, you feel she is taking you into her personal confidence when she sings her arias. She began with ‘Lascia ch’io pianga’ and we knew, straight away, that we were going to be ‘all right’. There’s not a huge amount to do with this aria except invest it with a certain amount of dolorous feeling and execute its ornamentations neatly, and that she did. Next, we stepped up the gas, with ‘Piangerò la sorte mia’ from Giulio Cesar. This is Handel how I like him, and Miss Watts handled him how I like it. Sufficiently dramatic, plenty of colour and sorrow, and all the technical difficulties made to seem as if they weren’t technical or difficult at all. I enjoyed this one much more than the jolly Handel of ‘Bel piacere’ (Agrippina). However, with the Agrippina Miss Watts made her statement of intent. With that song we said goodbye (with one exception) to the gloomy and the dramatic. From here on in, we were going to have fun. Fun? 

Oh, much, much more than fun, because coming up was the highlight of the concert, the highlight for me of my musical-vocal month (not forgetting even Masaniello). The next number was ‘The Soldier Tir'd’ from Arne’s Artaxerxes. And here the singer’s wonderful exuberance and her talent for the joyous flowed forth, while her voice flowed, up and down Arne’s voluble roulades, like a roller coaster on a merry Sunday spree. It was magic stuff. Here is the place for a Gänzl lecture. I can’t not do it, but I will keep it short. Please, please can we have more English songs and arias from English singers. The Artaxerxes gave nothing in quality to the Handel and Mozart on the programme, so why don’t we hear it more? Why do we not hear the wonderful arias and music (and English words) of such composers as Henry Bishop? This singer would make a malheur with ‘Tell me, my heart’. Well, for now, I’ll make do with ‘The Soldier Tir'd’ – which may have been an everybody’s piano-stool item, and a frequent debut piece for young singers in the nineteenth century, but is a lostish jewel now. Bless you, Miss Watts, for bringing it back. And for bringing it back so brilliantly. In the second part, we got back to the better-known stuff with a delightful ‘Deh vieni’ (this lady must be, and has been, a perfect Susanna), and a flowing ‘Ach, ich fühls’ with all those terrifying long, one-breath phrases finished off beautifully. Her first Pamina is apparently scheduled for soon. I may be a fan of the ‘joyous’ Elizabeth Watts, but that would still have to be worth a visit. And finally we got ‘O luce di quest’ anima’ (Linda di Chamouni). You can get tired of this soprano bon-bon, but not when its sung with the sprightliness and unpretentiousness that Miss Watts displayed. In her hands the aria isn’t just a vocal showpiece, it’s a happy country ditty. And so much the better. 

There was more than sufficient applause to justify two encores, and the result was a classic ‘O mio babbino caro’ and a slightly naughty ‘Mein Herr Marquis’ (why in English?) where a bit of camping around sometimes got in the way of the notes. The part of Adele is far too soubretty for Elizabeth Watts, and I hope she never plays it, but the audience adored it. What I adored and what I will go away long remembering was ‘The Soldier Tir'd’. It goes firmly into my list of Great Highlights of the Jersey Music Festival 2010, alongside the best of Benedetti and Sikhovetsky and that still memorable Fanfare. I was not looking forward to awaiting the long bus home, so I was shiveringly grateful when nice gentleman offered me a ride in his glorious Merc. And thus I was chauffeured back to St Helier and the ‘Festival Club’ at the Lazyjack Room of the Royal Yacht Hotel by Ron Hickman (the ‘Black and Decker’ man) and his wife, Helen. He even offered me a drive of his classic Lotus Elan (oh hell, he designed the thing!), but I explained about Red Ted, and told him Lotuses were a bit outside my comfort zone! Jersey hospitality reigns again. Thank you Ron and Helen.

And so, to a last session with the Festival gang – organisers and performers – a couple of beers and a nice bloody steak sandwich and chips, while taking the opportunity to happy snap (I’m becoming notorious for it) the star of the evening deservedly attacking her pile of chips – and then, in a flurry of farewells, I was on my way… It’s all been the greatest of fun, the greatest of musical pleasure. And, for heaven’s sake it seems they made … a profit! Are Festivals supposed to do that? Do you know, I have a little feeling that I may just have to come back here again same time next year…

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Jersey Liberation Day

These two young Jersey lads, in the square in the small hours, had their own ideas about ‘liberation’. They were most enthusiastic, pressing even, in their invitation to me to join in, but I am far too modest and shy. And, anyway, I was liberated years ago.

The Jersey Liberation Festival Gala Concert

Tonight was the big concert at the Opera House: the Jersey Chamber Orchestra and soloists in two concerti and the Elgar Introduction and Allegro for Strings.
So, given that I’m inclined the spread my writings rather largely, a screed on the happy event might here have been foreseeable. But, strangely enough, in spite of a thoroughly enjoyable musical night, I haven’t got a screed to write.
There’s no way I’m going to comment on the pieces themselves, except to say that I didn’t find the Elgar as effective as I had expected it to be (which may very well be my fault), and that having not read the programme properly, the Mendelssohn didn’t turn out to be the one I know and was waiting for.
The soloists were, with one exception, the same as last night’s – the Fab Four – and everything I thought last night I thought again tonight, and in spades.
Yes, it was great to see the Two Most Beautiful Violinists in the World (OK, Nicky was announced as ‘the’, but I have my little weaknesses .. chuckle.. sorry Sacha!) giving their rendition of the familiar Bach double concerto. Yes, I did enjoy very much Sacha and Qian’s performance of the Mendelssohn (for violin, piano and strings in D Minor) that wasn’t the one I’d expected but with which it was good to make acquaintance. But I’d had my delighted ‘discovery’ of all the players concerned on the previous night, and that joy and excitement of seeing and hearing something new and terrific doesn't and can't happen the second time around.
The one additional soloist was the viola-player – the replacement for the lost Chinese man. Somehow, at incredibly short notice, the management succeeded in getting the principal violist of the LSO to fill the gap, and the viola passages of the Elgar were duly played most beautifully.
As for the orchestra – a mixture of local players and some imported for the occasion – under the baton of Daniel Cohen .. they simply did everything they should have done, and nothing they shouldn’t have, and added their considerable bit to a wholly enjoyable evening.

Having had my say on the subject of the Fab Four’s publicity photos, I did put my trusty Fuji in my pocket when I headed for the theatre, and I cornered Nicky and Leonard amongst the champagne glasses at half time. Look. If I can happy snap these hugely photogenic young people looking as good and natural as this, what can a professional do? I rest my case.

I had just finished my nightcap, in the company of the Katie the viola player, and was heading out into the night and the city square, when I saw the stars of the show preparing their van for departure, and realised that my collection of photos had a notable hole in it. No snap of Sacha. So I hurtled across, Fuji aflying …
The resultant ‘team photo’ will, I am sure, be among my happiest souvenirs of the Jersey Liberation Music Festival 2010.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Jazz at Hamptonne

Alas, because of the eternal transport problems, I had to miss this morning’s master classes at the Jersey Academy of Music. I’d particularly have liked to have checked out the singing one, given by Scots tenor Nicky Spence, if only just to see how it compares with my own poor efforts. And I’d have also liked another chance to see my two (newly) favourite violinists in action. But St Leonards is too far to walk from St Helier, and at 1pm I had to be at the intriguingly named Hamptonne for ‘Jazz at Hamptonne’.
Now, I am not a ‘jazz’ aficionado. I know little about what is nowadays called ‘jazz’ and I squirm when I hear my favourite songs – or their lyrics at least – being minced up to musically unidentifiable vocalisms under that description. ‘I like to recognise the tune’.
But anything done well is ‘done well’, and I was pleased that my friends Simon and Beata were eager to go (and give me a lift) for two reasons. One, because Wu Qian was to vary the jazz with some piano pieces and, two, because the featured artist on the bill was Jacqui Dankworth.
The last time I had anything to do with Jacqui, she was a very young musical comedy actress and I was a West End casting director. And neither of us is going to tell you how long ago that was.
Since then, she has reinvented herself in the mould of her wonderful mother, Cleo Laine – a frightfully dangerous thing to do – and I was eager to see, given the acclaim and success she has had, exactly what was up.
We got to Hamptonne after a dreadful drive – how can the roads of so small an isle, with so small a population, be so badly and frequently traffic-jammed? – just in time for the first set.

Hamptonne is a stunning old farmhouse complex, now turned into a rural museum, but it boasts what looks like a permanent marquee and a delightful adjacent lawn which together make it ideal for semi-al fresco entertainments.

We’d barely sat down when Jacqui and her three musicians began. The first song was pretty indifferent, and I started to become uncomfortable. The second, an endless and rather monotonous piece by Sting was worse and salvaged only by a lovely delivery of the last couple of lines. ‘Versions’ of what used to be ‘Blue Moon’ and ‘I’ve Never Been in Love Before’ (once one of my own regulars) followed, and by now I was worse than uncomfortable. This was, frankly, painful.
The voice is open and utterly free of vibrato. Fine. But also utterly lacking in warmth. And there is a great big hole at the top of the chest voice range where the thrill ought to be. And the head voice sounded simply feeble. I was horrified. A chanteuse of even small reputation cannot sing like this. And Jacqui is of much more than small reputation.
The only relief to a grim first set was a wholly lovely song ‘It happens quietly’ written by father John and not demanding any excesses of range or dramatic performance.

I felt so depressed that I ran for a pint of Liberation Ale (yes, truly), and I got more depressed when Wu Qian, after a lovely ‘Clair de lune’, given with her trademark gentle touch, cancelled her promised Satie to zip away for a rehearsal for tonight.
I gloomed through some capable, pleasant, backgroundy piano and sax-clarinet music by locals Peter Thompson and George McAllister, pausing only to wonder ... why play the classics, such as ‘Stranger on the Shore’, and get yourself compared with the great artists of forever, when there are a million other pieces of music in the world to play with and make your own?

That same thought stuck when Jacqui and her far-too-frequently-introduced boys returned for their second set. She started with ‘Mood Indigo’. But she made a pretty fair job of it. And, then, something clicked. Her second piece was ‘Sweet Devotion’, a self-written number, and now, at last, suddenly, everything came together. The hole in the voice vanished, the head voice clicked into gear, the phony club chantoozie (‘I’m only here to sell you my CD’) business gave way to genuine feeling and style, genuine warmth, and out of the blue we had one big ‘YEEESSSS!’
My heart squeezed. She CAN do it. So what was all that other stuff about?
I put my hoorays on hold through pretty convincing ‘versions’ of ‘On the Street Where You Live’ and that old holiday camp fave ‘Almost Like Being in Love’, I warmed nicely through a more recognisable ‘My Foolish Heart’ … and, in the end, we got there. All of us. By the time the singer reached her final number, ‘Sittin’ on top of the world’, she had roused the previously politely enthusiastic audience to yows and wows ... and I was right in there yowing and wowing with them.
She CAN do it. There is no hole, the top is sweet and powerful, the bottomest bits are grand, the warmth IS there, the voice is perfectly OK, the performance too, and the personality – always attractive – is whoopee. But Jacqui, love, why in the hell did you make us sit so much indifferent singing before finally giving us what you have got?
And I’m really glad that you have got it, for old time’s sake, for ... well for all sorts of reasons. But, in spite of the lovely surroundings and the Liberation Ale, you did give me some really worried moments. What is the problem? Are you just not a morning (or early afternoon) girl?
Next time I come to hear you, I’ll make sure it’s in the evening, OK? And promise me you will sing ‘Sweet Devotion’. Yours sincerely, Kurt.

The Night the Trout went out

The Festival’s first evening concert, billed as ‘The Trout’, took place tonight at the Jersey Opera House. But there was one slight anomaly: there was no Trout. The visa for Chinese viola player Wenxiao Zheng, and hence he, had failed to come through in time, and .. well, no viola, no Trout. But top-billed Festival star Nicola Benedetti (violin) came to the party and the rescue, and instead of the Schubert we got … Shostakovitch and César Franck. The harried Festival official who announced the changes from the stage assured us that we wouldn’t be losing by them, and, my goodness, was he right!
The first part of the concert was, thus, given by Ms Benedetti, along with violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky and pianist Wu Qian from the Sitkovetsky Trio, and, in spite of the size of the Opera House, it somehow felt more like a merry musical evening round the piano with friends than a formal concert. The artists, and Leonard Eischenbroich (‘cello) who completes the trio, are apparently old friends, all graduates of the Yehudi Menuhin school, and that comfortable feeling of fellowship coloured warmly what came to us from the stage.
Nicola Benedetti is the best-known of the four artists. But not to me. I have had my head buried in Victorian Vocalists, Wagner and the back end of a horse whilst she has been zipping up the ladder of fame. From what I had read up, I was afraid that I was going to get some souped-up TV dollybird in a little black dress and a Lady Diana died-blonde hairdo, but yippee! Not at all, at all. Ms Benedetti is a fine, tall and poised young woman, more Amélie Mauresmo than Céline Dion, with not a drop of peroxide in sight, and she favoured us last night with a stunning full-length creation in scarlet satin. She also favoured us with some truly magnificent violin playing. The critic who wrote something about her body and her violin joining as in one arc was right, and the even older cliché about making a fiddle sing was right too. But Ms Benedetti doesn’t make her violin sing like Adelina Patti or Joan Sutherland .. all skills and Wieniawski frills .. the singer who comes to mind, rather, is the late Giulietta Simionato, with that wide seamless range (Ms B goes for ages without seeming to change her bow) and, above all, those wonderful deep contralto tones. In the César Franck sonata in A major, with which she and Wu Qian replaced ‘The Trout’, those brandy-coloured tones echoed out over the hall in a simply thrilling manner.
The piece, in fact, of which I also knew nothing until tonight (and which was apparently written as a wedding present for Belgian violinist Eugène Ysaÿe) has some really lovely passages – long-lined, unfussy, well there is no other word I can find, ‘singing’ music – and I am decidedly grateful to the British Immigration Services for letting me hear it.
As a little ‘starter’, before the César Franck, Ms Benedetti and Wu Qian were joined by Sitkovetsky in a one-piano, two-violin performance of five little pieces by Shostakovitch some at least of which, if I heard the announcement aright, come from the world of film and even cartoon. They made an absolutely delightful -- sometimes charming, sometimes silly-jolly -- little opener to the evening, and quite soulaged an audience who’d come to hear the ‘easy’ Schubert and were instead being served up a programme of a rather different kind.
They also made me look forward muchly to the second half, and to hearing a great deal more of Mr Sitkovetsky. His violin sings differently to that of Ms Benedetti. Instead of a roaming mezzo-contralto, he is a baritone: not a booming Robert Merrill one but more of a Gerard Souzay. Delicate, precise, ineffably sweet and -- best of all -- twinkling and pixie-ish in the light-hearted and jokey bits. His engaging smile, as he took his bow, said it all.
Of course, come the Tschaikovsky Trio in A minor, there is, in theory, not a lot of space for smiles. The piece is an in memoriam for the composer’s friend, Nikolai Rubinstein. I expected quite a lot of wallow and, since 7 May is a sad anniversary of, I imagine, exactly the same kind for me as it was for Tschaikowsky, I thought I might wallow along without much effort. But this Trio doesn’t wallow. It doesn’t sound particularly sad or woebegone, or, to me, tell any ‘story’. It does, however, allow the three players to go through a fair part of the gamut, and Mr Sitkovetsky did just that. I liked his soulful moments here almost as much as his grins in the Shostakovitch. Hell, I just like him fullstop.
The pianist gets much more of a go in the trio than in the first-part pieces. In those, Wu Qian had been the perfect accompanist, playing with a delightfully gentle touch – gentle fortissimo playing is rather special, I always think -- and melting from the supportive background to the occasional foreground almost without one noticing it. In the Tschaikowsky, she was able to take centre-stage much more frequently, and without ever losing that tempting warmth of tone, to rattle off the composer’s variety of frilly bits and stentorian solos most convincingly.
The trio also brought us Mr Eischenbroich. The Rupert Everett of ‘cellists. The piece allows the cellist some very sweet solo passages, and in these the player’s bow seemed simply to float across the strings, bringing out every ounce of the endearing quality in the music. And when he leaped into Tschaikowsky’s more energetic moments, chevelure-a-tossing, one simply couldn’t have asked for better.
All in all, a first-rate evening, with four first-rate young musicians. The ‘Trout’ simply wasn’t missed for a minute, a grand time was had by all and I‘ll bet there are a few people who will be going home tonight saying ‘Do you know, Shostakovitch can be fun!’ and ‘Gosh, that César Franck fellow..’
I’m one of them.
But what I, myself, have come home remembering most clearly from tonight are Ms Benedetti’s deepest contralto moments in the second movement of the Franck, and Mr Sitkovetsky’s smiles. As well as the fact that I shall be meeting and hearing the whole delightful crowd (plus a hastily flown-in replacement violist) again tomorrow night ..

PS No pictures. I spent half an hour on the web trying to find photos to go with this. No good. Nicola's are either too glossy and slicked-up, or too small, Alexander has dramatically changed his look (I much much prefer the present one) and the trio's pinchable pix are miniature. I shall have to take my camera tonight and try to get a home-made one or two.. Really, you would think such very public people would have nice photos waiting for me to 'borrow'...

Friday, May 7, 2010

A new classic for Jersey

I’m back in my room, feeling a little as if I’d been hit between the eyes by a ten-pounder. I’ve foregone going out to the Jersey war tunnels for the Festival’s episode two – Jersey poetry and ‘cello music -- partly because I had no wheels but mainly because I wanted to sit down and take in what I’ve just heard. Episode one.

What we were promised was a ‘fanfare’ by Jersey resident Jon Lord (best know to the world at large through his work with Deep Purple), based on the island’s one and only wholly and unadulteratedly indigenous folksong, ‘La Chanson de Peirson’, which was here being given its first ever performance by the local amateur brass group, Jersey Premier Brass.

The Peirson of the title was Major Peirson, who commanded the native troops against the French in the so-called Battle of Jersey of 1781: ‘the last land battle on British soil’. Peirson won the day, but lost his life in the winning, and like victors (especially dead ones) from Classical times on, his name and his deed were celebrated in song and story. Also in a painting by Copley. And again in the name of a street, which runs off St Helier’s Royal Square where, it is said, the hero fell, and where the performance was to take place.

The piece was, thus, a thrice suitable choice to launch the festival, and, on viewing the programme, I thought it had all the makings of being the star event of the lot. Well, it very well may be. The other events will have to be pretty damn’ good to evoke in me the excitement and the pure pleasure evoked by ‘La Chanson de Peirson’.

The work was in no kind what I had expected. For me, a ‘fanfare’ is what a row of heralds do when the Queen walks into the room. A burst, a blast of brass and end. And this is certainly not that. If I had to describe it in my musically old-fashioned vocabulary, I would rather call it a symphonic picture for brass instruments. A beautiful and extraordinarily atmospheric picture in which enchanting phrases and half-breath-halting moments give way to vigorous and stirring strains …
The trouble with listening to a brand new work is that it is so hard to take everything in. You don’t know what’s coming, you can’t judge shape somehow, all you can do is just let it flow over you. And flow it did. I need to hear this work again. Preferably right now. Oh, there will be heaps of possible occasions in the future. I imagine that this new ‘Chanson de Peirson’ will become a Jersey classic, a must at any and every future Jersey Festival, and I also imagine that it will go on to be performed by brass ensembles around the world. And I will be able to say: I was one of the few hundred people there, in Royal Square, with my paper cup of Green Thai Soup in my hand and my notebook in my head, when it was played for the first time.

Undoubtedly, in the future, it will be played more skilfully. The piece is far from easy technically, above all in its timing, and the young group and their cheery conductor were tested to the edge of their abilities by it. But they got through its intricacies quite remarkably well, and I reckon there were less bloops today than there were in the orchestra of the Deutsche Oper (see below) during last month’s Ring.
I have just one wish: next time I hear Lord’s ‘Chanson de Peirson’, I would like to hear it on its own. Uncomfortably sandwiched between ‘Death and Glory’ and ‘How Do You Like Your Eggs Fried?’ it shone like the proverbial ruby on a rubbish heap, showing up the facile movie and dance-band material as truly trivial stuff. Actually, what I’d really like is to hear it ringing out from the flare-lit, night-time ramparts of Mont Orgeuil … I wonder if the Festival committee and Premier Brass could arrange a repeat performance for Sunday night.

So the Jersey Music Festival of 2010 is on its way, and on its way with a veritable flourish and – yes – fanfare. And I’m culpably missing Sir Nicholas Young’s ‘keynote speech’ on ‘Liberation’ at the Town Hall as I sit here, wishing that it were midday again, and that the performance of ‘La Chanson de Peirson’ was yet to come, with me better forearmed and better comprehending, and just having some idea of the treat that was in store for me ..

But it's time to move on .. tonight it’s Schubert and Tschaikowsky.. so I need to change my head...

PS I wonder, were the world’s music critics and writers there among the pigeons and the soup-cups … the world’s press and TV? ... I saw a few man-sized cameras .. or, surely … Kurt Gänzl doesn’t have a scoop!?

The Jersey 'Liberation' Music Festival

While I was in Berlin, during some of my quieter moments, I read a delightful book entitled The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, set in the wartime Channel Islands. It was, then, quite a coincidence to arrive a few days later in Jersey and find that I was just in time for the annual celebrations of the Liberation (9 May) of the only part of Britain to have come under enemy rule, in the years just before my birth. And, much to my delight, the occasion is being celebrated not by marches and parades and cannon-firings (although these may also happen, I don’t know) but with a Music Festival.
Now, the word ‘Festival’ has become somewhat discoloured over recent decades. You see an ‘International Festival’ billed, and then discover that it consists of a Persian lady singing 14th century Chinese songs, a mime troupe from the Yucatan, six hours of the songs of Eisler, and an orchestral concert in which the soloists play two vacuum cleaners and a French alphorn. You wouldn’t catch me, for one, within a mile of such stuff.
In Jersey, however, it is not like that. The Music Festival here is not made up of programmes and people which and whom only the more esoteric specialists of the musical and dramatic worlds find interesting, but concerts and events that appeal to a wide section of that public who just enjoy music, of all kinds, performed by already well-known young artists in fun surroundings. And I, of course, count myself very firmly among that number.
So, over the next three days – handicapped only by the need to find public transport (taxis here are ruinous) to get from one venue and town to another – I’m going to take in as many as possible of the ten events on the Festival programme and, as ever, I will tell you ‘all about it, all about it’.
Take off time is 1.15pm, so I guess I had better get my shoes on and start the trek across town to the Royal Square and event number one .…

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Little Livia .. on the way up!

Well, I’ve never before owned a racehorse which has made it to the races at the early age of two, so little Australian Livia de Gerolstein is a bit of a landmark in my racing career.
After her useful, strongly-finishing fourth on debut at Ballarat, this week she was entered for the Kevin Egan 2yo pace at Maryborough. Unfortunately, she drew nastily – nine out of ten, number two on the second line – but in the end it doesn’t seem to have mattered. Chris Lang jr, her driver, got her into the one-one position – behind the pacemaking hot favourite -- with a lap to go, and once again she ran on splendidly in the home straight. There was no catching the leader/winner, which had stacked up the field nicely and was never challenged, but Livia – pacing rather better than on her first outing -- was closing strongly on the second horse (which had had the trail all the way) at the line, and finishing better than anything else in the race.
The icing on this rather tasty cake came with the announcement of the time. These babies had moved along, running a mile rate of 2 mins 00.9 with a final quarter in 28.4. So I think that we have got ourselves rather a nice filly. Watch this space .. or the Victorian TAB!

STOP PRESS: A gutsy led-and-run-down race by Ténor at Lisieux .. finished fourth (for which, over here, he gets cashwise five times what Livia did for her third). Seems my babes are pretty much up and in there .. long may it continue!

Jersey, or a Quiet Day With a Book

I didn’t want to leave Berlin. I didn’t. It was like tearing a babe from its mother’s breast…
Closing up number 32 and saying goodbye to everyone … I was miserable.
But my travel and my Jersey B&B were booked, and – let’s face it -- the pace I’d been running to in Berlin had been pretty hot, and a few quiet days in the Channel Islands sun with a book seemed a salutary thought.
But it didn’t quite turn out that way.

Installed in my room at the fondly-remembered Bayview, I took a quiet wander around the streets of St Helier, picked up leaflets on What’s On, and started to sketch my gentle ‘entertainment’ plans for my time here. The races! I remembered rather fondly the races from my last visit, but .. oh! no grandstand, no place to sit. I can’t do that. So I fired off a small message to the Club to ask if things sedentary had improved..
And thus I met Charlotte, the club secretary, and ended up with an invitation to join her and a group of her friends on a trip to the morrow’s races across the water in Guernsey. Guernsey, of which I had decreed on my last visit that 'nothing became it like the leaving of it'!
And so, come 10.15, a smart silver car driven by a tall, young and glamorous lady (why does one expect a ‘secretary’ to be grey, small, ageing and bespectacled) pulled up outside my door, and off we set. Well, ‘off we set’ is a small exaggeration. As we stopped to pick up Paul and Maia, others of our company, somehow the car shut and firmly locked its doors: 20 minutes was spent while Paul did intricate things with a pair of coathangers (where, I wonder, did he learn that) but finally the cavalry and the spare keys had to be called for. This was clearly going to be no ordinary day!

There is of course, water between Jersey and Guernsey and we crossed it by plane. A number of Charlottte’s friends are seriously into aeroplanes, and so we cruised across the waters in Paul Rennie’s droolworthy cream-and-gold lined Cessna ‘Golden Eagle’. Daddy, buy me that...?
From the airport to the racetrack is some distance, and from our taxi I was able to see the part of Guernsey that I had not seen on my gloomy first visit. And it is enchanting. Pure olde Englishe countryside, lanes and stonewalls, charming old houses and plenty of green. Never judge an isle by its towns is, I guess, a fair adage! Guernsey, you are redeemed.

Guernsey racecourse actually isn’t a racecourse, it’s a golf course. But, for one day in the year, the club gets out its running rails (purchased, would you believe it, second-hand from Ascot!), and constructs a curiously-shaped one mile track around and through the greens and fairways and bunkers and flourishing gorse. They have a splendid commentator, who explains for the benefit of the horsey-uninitiated what everything is, how to bet and so forth .. Actually, how to bet was an eye-opener. Never, ever, on any race course in the world, have I seen long queues waiting to bet with a bookie! But bet everyone did. Even on 3 and 4 horse races! And there must have been nearly 3000 folk there ..

We lunched – twelve of us, and deliciously convivial -- in a thronged marquee, on Pimms and champagne and seafood, we watched the horses – local, British and even one French (which, of course, won) -- parade and run the five races on the card. In spite of tiny fields there were some close finishes including one dead-heat which I’m convinced wasn’t, but… well, mod cons like an up-to-date photofinish aren’t part of the game here! And it meant that more of the merry crowd got a ‘collect’, so what the heck…

And then it was time to head back to the airport, back across the water and .. home? Oh no. On to the Boathouse at St Aubin for more jollity and more wine, and an encounter with the beautiful young singer-songwriter, Vicky Fallon O’Neill and her mentors..

thence, to one of the island’s beautiful homes to listen to Vicky’s new demo .. and still the wine flowed on ..
It was nearly midnight when I wobbled, rather the worse for wear, into the Bayview.. my ‘quiet day in the sun with a book’ ended.
It was a truly grand day, with truly grand people …
But today I really must do the sun and book thing. Actually, I don’t think I’d be up to anything more strenuous!