Acknowledge everything always

This summer has been quite a surreal experience. It all started with a random lunch with a friend who (unbeknownst to him) set me on a course which led to one of the most amazing summers ever.

To go into the detail would shatter the illusion and (frankly) it’s late in the day and we’re meant to be going off to a local chinese restaurant for a takeaway.

So rather than providing that detail, I’d just like to include a list of first names of people who assisted me this summer with all of that Proms related nonsense. The list probably won’t mean very much to the majority of people and for that I am a bit sorry, but I’d still like to mark the moment. It seems the right thing to do.

So, in no particular order, please be advised that Thoroughly Good Badges have been ordered for the following. No one is entirely clear when they will be delivered.

Tom W
Nigel
Rosemary
Graeme
Kate
Rian
Nicholas
Simon C
Simon R
Charles
Suzie
Adrian
Samantha
Catherine
Lisa
Andi
Dean
David
Alex
Rob
Justin
Gregory
Roger
Ashley
Andrew
Tommy
Peter
Adam

and, of course, myself.

Prom 71: Birthday Prom

Getting to our seats

I’ve long been a sucker for synchronicity ever since I read Celestine Prophecy. According to that brief read, there are no coiincidences but merely a series of interrelated events, the links may not be immediately obvious but offer the answer to a question. Even perhaps a question we don’t even know yet.

It was three years ago I went to the Royal Albert Hall with a friend I’d worked with in Aldeburgh. We sat in the stalls and turned our seats to the stage. We glanced through the programme and noticed that the fourth horn player in the orchestra that was playing that night was someone I’d remembered from my days managing the Britten-Pears Orchestra. I’d also remembered him from my days in Suffolk Youth Orchestra. The boy had done good. We were both terribly proud.

It was this same concert that I stared across at the Radio 3 commentator’s booth and saw a face I recognised. There sat with his headphones on and microphone under his nose, was a man I also recalled from the Britten-Pears Orchestra seven years before.

I remembered his name and emailed him as soon as I got home. He replied and without realising re-ignited my interest in the media industry, in writing, my mild-obsession with the composer Benjamin Britten and, most importantly of all, a desire to work in radio. Following his advice I enrolled on a radio production course and loved it.

A few months after the end of the radio production course at the start of the 2005 Proms season a friend rang me to tell me that the same horn player I’d seen in the Proms the year before had walked out of a rehearsal and dropped down dead. These things are not meant to happen. Talented people aren’t meant to just drop off the face of the earth without warning. They certainly should be taken from us in their late twenties.

It was the same orchestra my Suffolk acquaintance played in three years ago which another horn playing friend whom I know because of the same Britten-Pears Orchestra who ended up playing for, sitting in the same seat occupied by the chap who died in 2005. When I learnt that, I have to confess I gulped for a moment.

(Either you’ll see the link and appreciate the link and why it touched me or you won’t. If you don’t then I suspect I may have difficulty explaining it any more than I have already.)

It is that same female friend who’s husband played the trumpet fanfare in last year’s Last Night of the Proms, something none of us were expecting when we sat guzzling glasses of Cava and readying ourselves for the traditional bits of the last night Prom. That trumpeter will, I understand, be doing the same again in this year’s Last Night. That trumpeter is someone I went to University with thirteen years ago.

Maybe it’s not very spooky. But even when I write all of that done, as confusing as it must be to read, it still spooks me.

So imagine the scene last night when, waiting for Simon who had pootled off to the box office at the Royal Albert Hall to retrieve my special birthday tickets for my oh-so-special-I’ve-been-looking-forward-to-it-all-week-birthday-Prom, I notice out of the corner of my eye a face I recognise. I can’t remember her name but I know I have to speak to her. That’s what happens in the Celestine Prophecy I tell myself. There’s no time to stop and think about this. I just have to do it.

She remembered my name immediately and although I didn’t remember hers, I was correct in recalling her from wind orchestra rehearsals back at University. I conducted that band and remember Helen from the glances I would make to the flute section, cueing them in whenever I’d spotted the appropriate mark in the score or had actually remembered to. I’d last seen her 13 years ago. I saw her at the Royal Albert Hall last night quite by chance.

Sadly there wasn’t much time to chat. But in the brief minutes we spent catching up, Helen revealed that she now worked for the scouting movement. She explained that she had just recently finished organising the World Scouts Jamboree. “Oh, ” I laughed, “then you’ll know Peter Duncan,” remembering my attempts to persuade the BBC that it was a good idea to let me talk to the ex-Blue Peter presenter about how he bought a piece of furniture in Ikea.

“Yes I know Peter Duncan,” replied Helen. It seemed I had been asking the wrong people for access to Peter Duncan. If only I’d known that four months ago. Instead I learn it the night before the Proms season ends.

With time pressing, Simon was keen for us to move into the Albert Hall and take our seats. There were two more surprises left. The first that another old friend from Suffolk Youth Orchestra would be joining us for the concert. I’ve known Hannah for years. It was terribly special to have her around, especially when I finally discovered that Simon had managed to secure tickets in one of the “boxes” inside the Royal Albert Hall. It was my first time “in a box”, scarily close to the orchestra and even closer to the same seat I sat in three years ago.

It was back then, three years ago, I observed a contemporary of mine made good, playing in a professional orchestra in a world renowned music festival. It was also then my interest in all things BBC was reignited. Suddenly there was direction. I knew where I wanted to be and what I wanted to do.

And the cherry on this particular cake now? Three years after that first visit and sometime this week I’m told, I’ll receive a big A4 envelope inside which will be various documents and a letter demanding my signature. It’s taken three years and untold applications and interviews, but at the end of the most unusual Proms season I’ve ever experienced it seems like synochricity which has seen me finally get what had formally been an elusive role at the BBC. I can hardly wait.

And all of this on my birthday, marked with the kindest of gestures by a pal in the arena bar who shared a bottle of champagne amongst the four of us to mark my passing into a new age range.

Little wonder I believe in synchronicity.

Prom 71: Boston Symphony Joy

Birthday Prom

For all the soapbox prounouncements I’ve made about the BBC’s Last Night of the Proms (Prom 72, this evening, live from the Royal Albert Hall at www.bbc.co.uk/radio3 or on tv and proper radio), any Proms fan will concur that the “proper” last night – the one which bears some resemblance to what goes on for the rest of the season – is in fact the penultimate night.

This year’s penultimate Proms gig was given by the Boston Symphony Orchestra under the direction of James Levine who not only seemed to bear a striking similarity to yesteryear photographs of Henry Wood himself, but also maintained an energetic committment to his conducting presumably feeling sufficiently reassured that he did have a comfy conductors stool to fall back on at any time during the performance should he feel the need.

The Three “Illusions” by Elliot Carter failed to strike any chord. Moments of interesting textures were eclipsed by the ocasional strange moment where it felt as though the band were finding it difficult to play as one.

All of this pailed into insignificance when the audience settled themselves into the “meat” of the evening – Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra. It was this work – originally commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1943 which delivered some lush textures, tight rythmic playing and moments of genuine and intended musical comedy.

The band succeeded in keeping up momentum during the second half too during a stunning performance of Brahms’ Symphony No.1, prompting a lengthy applause and numerous returns to the platform by the conductor. Hands were raw by the end of the evening not least because of the two encores delivered to the appreciative audience.

But the real joy for me was something intensely personal and to find out about that, you’ll need to read the next posting.

Getting your homework back

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News that the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee is getting together for a bit of a chinwag always comes as a surprise. It’s never a nice surprise. I suddenly become very subdued, my eyebrows tense up and I begin to nervously rub my chin. What will they do? Will they increase the interest rate or keep it as it is? Will we be able to afford the mortgage payments or not.

Of course, we will be able to afford the mortgage payment. We wouldn’t be living here if we couldn’t. But even so, news that the committee is meeting to discuss the possibility of increasing the rate is always a bad thing.

It feels a little like a report card. As though someone has assessed all our financial committments and spending habits and made a decision accordingly. Have we behaved or are we about to be punished?

This time around it seems we’re safe although reports suggest that we’ll almost certainly be hit after the next meeting. Either way, there’ll still be that moment when I’m transported back to school waiting for my homework to be handed back.

Stress

It’s taken me just over two years to work this one out. I don’t have a therapist anymore. I put the length of time it’s taken me to arrive at this conclusion down to that.

Every so often my job demands I work what’s known as an “on-call week”. Armed with a mobile phone and my trusty laptop (the one which had to be serviced due to excessive amounts of cat fur caught in the ventilation thingamy) I psyche myself up for the possibility that I may be called upon to do something unexpected and to carry it out in a reasonable professional way.

I do get calls like that and I do handle them like that too – I’m bound to say it.

In addition to this potentially random way of having to do work between the hours of 6pm and 9am (sleeping is allowed) I also have to do something of a regular publishing task.

It seems a little crass to say what exactly, but I can tell you that I find it really quite high pressure stuff even though I’m painfully aware some might consider this to be incredibly small-fry.

The task itself only takes 15 minutes (20 if things are bad) but every time I find my heart suddenly shifts gear. Despite the fact that I’ve done the same task five nights on the trot around about once every month (give or take) I still feel the pressure.

It hits me like a sledgehammer, the moment when I remember that actually this really is stress I’m feeling. In the thick of it I’ll wonder why on earth I’m still doing this when it affects me like it does. Then I reach that moment when I realise all is well and the task is over. Done. Completed. That’s like doing the 100 metre sprint and winning it. That’s when I remember I’d be more than happy to do it the next night and every night, weirdly.

I’m not really sure how that compares with other people’s work.