Monday, October 24, 2011

La Traviata

My good friends at the University of Essex gave me a fabulous farewell present - two tickets to La Traviata at the London Opera House.  Though I left Essex back in July, my tickets were not until October - last Saturday to be precise. And well worth waiting for!

La Traviata means 'the tramp'. Well, ok it translates as 'the fallen woman' but tramp kind of says it all. But in fact she is just a good time girl who is having a ball, makes the fatal mistake of falling in love and discovers she has consumption (tuberculosis). All set for a fun-filled evening?!

Yes! The singing was amazing, the set and costumes sumptuous as expected. And I managed to spot Philip - one of the chorus. Now why was I interested in spotting a member of the chorus? Because by mad chance, I had played bass for a celidh band for his 50th birthday the previous week in Lewisham. Small world, eh? Don't go to the opera for years, then bump into several of the cast of the next opera I am going to see within seven days.

I asked my friend to come with me so that we could have a good old 'girls night' on the town. She was due to arrive for lunch but the vagaries of a closed M11 delayed her arrival. Instead of duck and wild rice for lunch we had a couple of hasty but tasty duck sandwiches.

Anyway, back to the opera. We travelled on the train to Kings Cross, then to Covent Garden. Oh boy, I don't like those lifts at that station! We wandered round the market for a bit and had some supper (take away jacket potatoes) and a drink. Then to the opera house for our dose of culture!

But I'm getting ahead of myself, because on the train journey we met an interesting chap. Sitting in seats parallel to us were two young men, early 30s probably, with accompanying tins of cider  and shiny bomber jackets (and a Protestant tie). The one nearest me leaned over and, in a very broad Scots accent, asked if we minded him asking where we were going? Of course not, I replied, the opera.  What ensued may not be what you would typically expect. We then had a conversation about modern art, in particular Picasso. This young man and his colleague were on their way to Corby to an art exhibition. Don't go by appearances. The two lads departed at Stevenage and wished us well for our evening. We responded likewise, hoping they remained sober enough to reach their art exhibition.

We arrived at Kings Cross to refill our oyster cards and hit the underground. My friend queued up at the ticket windown and the young man serving her said 'any railcards, like senior citizens?' Standing nearby I could not help but hoot with laughter! My friend is many years off her senior citizens railcard! The ticket seller looked up and, as much as a gent with such lovely dark skin could, went as red as possible with embarassment. I perhaps shouldn't have put this, but it was terribly funny.

We did eventually reach the opera and, though sat high, we still had a reasonably good view and the show was fabulous. We enjoyed a wine in the wonderfully refurbished bar at the interval, and left (shamefully) before the final curtain calls so we could join the throng at the underground station before it became too like a cattle market.

The journey back was speedy and pleasant, with us both tired and relaxed after a full evening's culture. And I don't just mean the opera.

Photograph of the opera from the Guardian review. All copyright remains with the original publisher.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Jerry the knife, Colonel T and Bob

I met some interesting people in Arizona - and I'll tell you about three of them. Let's start with 'Jerry the knife'. No, that's not his name or his handle or street name or whatever, I just think it made a good title. But Jerry and knives do go together, as you will find out.

I met Jerry (and Colonel T and Bob) at a baseball game. They came with us and Sean, who had got us the tickets thanks to his Sergeant. I didn't get to meet the sergeant to say thanks, but I did see him at a distance and noticed he was one of the few individuals wearing a Pirates hat at a Diamondbacks game (their stadium, playing the Pirates).

Jerry is in his early twenties and looks like a young, beardless, blond Jack Black. He had that same enigmatic half smile, that hints at hidden wisdom (perhaps). After the game, we went to Sean's for a barbecue and I spent quite a bit of time talking with Jerry. He was very soft spoken, wore black and we had in depth talks about environment, food security and respect. A gentle soul, mostly I think. He is a computer nerd, and does some work for people fixing this and that. But the other way he earns money is demonstrating a high quality set of kitchen knives. I can imagine him being very good at it, with his soft spoken way and demonstrating how swiftly and effectively his cordon bleu kitchen weaponry can slice through even the soggiest tomato.

He didn't get a chance to demonstrate his knives to us, though he was quite persistent in bringing the subject up after the BBQ, especially as we gave him a lift back to his apartment. 'The knives are just in the house, I could bring them out quickly and show you...' No thank you Jerry.

He also told us that his brother lived in the next building. His brother is a twin, but likes to wear cowboy hats and walks with a silver topped cane. This caused the local supermarket checkout lady a lot of confusion until she finally twigged that there were two of 'him'.

So that was Jerry the knife - a nice guy, and not the sort of person I am likely to bump into all that often in the normal run of things.

But this BBQ also had Colonel T and Bob - as well as Sean, myself, Sandra (Sean's girlfriend), Les and Nadine. An odd assortment in many ways.

Bob and Colonel T are brothers. They are both in their late sixties I'd say, and both work with Sean doing 'serving'. Serving writs for lawyers - delivering papers to people who really don't want those papers. Bob is a retired fingerprint specialist who still does some consultancy. He was a big guy with a big personality, and a lot of tales to tell. The sort of crime scenes he was called to were probably not the type I wanted to hear detailed descriptions of, but he could certainly write an interesting book about the things he's done. He took my fingerprint and pressed it onto a business card. He always carries his little ink pad with him.

His brother, Colonel T, told us tales of his visit to Italy when he was younger. The family originally came from there, and he had visited a valley that suffered a famous flood in the early 60s. He'd got out of the valley just hours before the disaster. He was also quiet a lot of time, unless he was talking, because he was partially deaf. 'I was an artillery gunner for years, makes you deaf'.

These are not the sort of people I usually meet - and they are interesting and different and talking with them was an enriching experience. I may see some of them again (I have met Jerry once before, so am likely to meet him again), I may never see them again. Either way, they have given me something to write about.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Letters to my brother

Hi Phil

I still hold out some hope that you are out there and may, on occasion, do a bit of internet searching and find me. But even if you don't, it's still good to talk to you - in the only way I can.

I've just got back from a holiday in Arizona and had a fabulous time. I really enjoyed walking round the various environments - it's such a diverse state! I think you could probably fit GB inside Arizona about six times...

I go out there in particular to visit my friend Nadine, but also it's a place I really like. Lots of interesting birds, wildlife and architecture. (See my visit to Ramsey Canyon, amazing!)

At the moment I'm living just with Mel - it's weird! Number one son is away at Uni again, and husband is living with his partner the other side of Cambridge. So I am learning to be single. Weird feeling - having never actually lived on my own. Well, OK, I'm living with Mel so I'm not 'on my own', but she's nearly 18 and not exactly living in my pocket.  It is nice to come home when she's in though.

Do you like the picture I posted? It's our dad's half-brother, Peter, in 1925 on the boat out to Australia. He was just 16 when he was shipped off to Oz. I found out all about him from his granddaughter, who is some kind of cousin to us I guess. Her great grand-mother (Elsa) was our grandmother. I know dad always wanted to know what happened to him, so it's kind of cool to find out now.

I have a new job which is really enjoyable and hugely challenging - I'm learning lots of new stuff and really stretching my brain. But it's very worthwhile and with a subject like dementia, something that's going to affect us all at some point I guess.

But mum's ok, she's not got any signs of dementia any more than the usual forgetfulness that we all experience. The difference between being forgetful and dementia or Alzheimer's has been explained to me really simply: "Forgetting where you put your keys is one thing; putting your keys in the fridge is another." Makes sense, doesn't it?

Sally has health issues of course, she'll be 80 in January after all. One of them is macular degeneration which really affects her eyesight, but there's not a lot that can be done unfortunately. She's managing fine now and in fact has just been on a two week holiday with Daphne down to Cornwall and the South coast.

She's given up the house in Mallorca now - it was too hard for her to manage. But Carlota has said we can go visit any time we want. It would be nice to go back out there, but it won't be the same.

Well, back to work, but - just wanted to catch up.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Friends we've never met

There's a well known line that a 'stranger is just a friend you've never met'. Well, that's a lovely rule to follow, but not always true of course. And in pre-internet days you'd never have made a friend you'd never met except, perhaps, a pen pal.

But the delights of the internet are that you can make friends, real friends, that you've never met. And sometimes you get to meet them, and sometimes you don't.

I have good friends - friends who came into my life in different ways and some who were here for a reason, a season, and a lifetime.

I have friends I made over the internet such as Cathy (in Ireland) and Nadine (in the US, pictured left)  who I have met and who have deeply influenced my life. They've been a terrific support in hard times, great fun in good times, and opened up my life. I now travel to Ireland and the US to visit them and we will be friends come hell or high water!

There are also 'lost' friends you find again on the internet. Facebook is a typical example of how this can happen. An old school friend, a former lover, a long-lost family member... or a friend of a friend that you share interests with.

There are also friends I've made who I've never met. There are people I have learned to admire like WoodlandDave on Twitter. A real nature explorer and education specialist. I've never met him, but I know he's someone I would like. And then there's Linny - we don't just tweet at eachother, we have a dialogue and we 'chat' over twitter and Facebook. I know already I like her. She is a friend, even though we've never met.

The internet is, of course, a potential minefield of danger and duplicity. But if, like me, your basic instinct is trust, it can be a heck of a good place to make new friends. Just don't ever send money, and never arrange to meet anyone you aren't absolutely sure of.