Remembering the Somme

I’ve always had what I thought was a weird fascination with acts of remembrance.

Early on I assumed I was drawn to the theatre of death. That may well have had something to do with school chapel choir: all the swishing gowns, the heads hung low, everyone striving for stoicism.

It’s only recently I’ve come to see those acts of school-time acts of remembrance for what they were: educational. From an early age, the Sunday morning church services, the gathering around the memorial, and the wreaths were in fact fulfilling a need I hadn’t acknowledged as a teenager.

It’s obvious to me now. Remembrance and, in particular, those occasions when two minutes silence are observed, offer a collective moment to gain private perspective.

These special moments that have, as far as I can make out, arisen because of the carnage of the First World War, and the trauma it inflicted on the families waiting for their loved ones to return.

But as the years pass so it becomes more and more difficult to find the triggers that help those reflective moments mean something. As a teenager, it was the music of remembrance. John Ireland’s Greater Love Hath No Man still transports me. Good or bad, John Rutter’s Requiem is, as a result of numerous school events, inextricably linked with Remembrance Sunday. All bronzed autumn leaves, a stiff wind, and the threat of rain.

Today marks the centenary since the start of the Battle of the Somme. Two minutes silence at 7.28am and a day of commemorative events in France and the UK. I’m embarrassed to say that work got in the way. Proceedings played out on screens all around me at work, but I didn’t once look at what was going on. Present-day self-inflicted dramas seem to be dominating my thinking. Forgivable, I think.

I suspect I’d prefer to commit to remembering the terrifying loss of life when we commemorate its end. Marking the moment it started brushes up a little too close to a celebration. No one was triumphant. The Somme was folly. Arrogance masquerading  as strategy. Some things haven’t changed.

Britten’s War Requiem – a commission for the opening of Coventry Cathedral  in the 1962 – combines poetry by WW1 poet Wilfred Owen with the Latin Requiem Mass. It is a stunning creation: an unequivocal statement of Britten’s pacifism that still conveys the futility of war in our information-saturated present day world as being reminded of the total number of lives lost – 310,486.

Britten’s seminal work has been lacking from today’s events. Maybe that’s not surprising. The timing may not be right. Might we see it at the end of the 1914-1918 centenary. I hope so.

In the meantime, this performance, of the Britten’s Lacrimosa recorded at the Royal Albert Hall ad broadcast on BBC Two in 1993, featuring soprano Makvala Kasrashvili and Anthony Rolfe Johnson, helps.

Walking along Aldeburgh Music history

A strong along a memorial boardwalk at Snape Maltings Concert Hall in Suffolk

I visited Snape Maltings Concert Hall recently. Whilst I was there, I took a few moments to wander around the marshes. Buried amongst the reeds was a long duckboard stretching the length of the concert hall on which names of notable individuals have been engraved. A lovely walk through history on what was an unexpectedly hot day.

Kieran Cooper. Marketing and Box Office chap at the Aldeburgh Foundation. Spoken of in hushed whispers when I started there in 1995. Now immortalised on the walkway in the marshes, but in case anyone is wondering, Kieran is still very much alive.

David Heckels. Chairman of the Aldeburgh Foundation in 1995. Handsome. Charming. Fine hair combed within an inch of its life. Stalwart supporter of the Festival. Part of the landscape.

Rita Thomson. Britten’s carer. Key player in Red House history.

Alan Britten. Nephew of the composer. Smiley.

Sheila Colvin. General Director at the Aldeburgh Foundation when I was there between 1995 and 1997. Fantastic hair. Defiant walk. Imposing desk in an office with the best view over Aldeburgh HIgh Street. Enviable signature. Called me ‘Poppet’. Until today, I had no idea of her TV background.

A stolen moment on the South Bank

The sun is hot. Very hot. There’s the smallest of breezes, but the excitement from the crowd here on the South Bank more than makes up for it.

The Festival Hall is the new must-go-to location in Central London. I’m sitting on concrete benches. Beside me is a lady drawing up her to-do list in her notepad. On my right, two well-spoken thirty-somethings friends sit and chat, meeting for the first time in many months. They share surgery stories. One of them says that a patient at the hospital nearly died today. That was his high point today. Both seem quite happy.

In front of me people lean against the wall, looking out over the river as they knock back the cans of beer they’ve bought at the nearby supermarket. Nobody minds they haven’t gone to the bar. It’s all quite bohemian really what with their long hair, canvas shoes and shades.

It’s lovely to be here. There’s a relaxed vibe about the place. And it’s much needed. The architecture – the concrete – has a surprisingly reassuring effect on me. It’s as though my mother has put her arm around me. “There, there chump. It will all work out.”

Do Mums really know that? Or is that the best they can say? Do they believe in themselves when they say it or are they just offsetting their own insecurities? We believed them when they said it back then. Why does it all seem so unbelievable now?

The South Bank resonates. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve used that word ‘resonates’ this week. I’ve worked on the basis that the bigger the word the more successful I’ll be in securing my place in the big scheme of things. I can’t say I think it’s worked especially. I suspect I’ve ended up feeling more and more out of step with everyone else around me and those I come into contact with. I haven’t changed. So what’s happened to them?

Shit. I’ve digressed again. I’m sorry. I’m shit for doing that.

The South Bank. It’s a key place for me. I love it here. It feels like home. London’s version of style. My own personal version of 1960s Carnaby Street. An opportunity to watch people. To tap into conversations. To feel alive.

I came here for the first time in my early twenties, desperate to establish contacts with players in the London Philharmonic Youth Orchestra to bolster my own little black book. Later I used to wander around here on weekend walks with The Chap. It was here I wrote about for my first writing assessment for the correspondence course I began nearly ten years ago. And it was here I was planning meeting up with my cousin I haven’t seen for nearly 20 years over the weekend.

It’s a special place. A moment of exquisite serenity. Something to savour.

Commuter Diary #19

The first completed questionnaire completed and submitted to the GP in pursuit of a referral for CBT

I dropped the form the doctor asked me to complete for a referral back to the surgery on my way in. The moment needs recording. It’s a little odd seeing everything in black and white as you hand it over to the receptionist. Almost like I was handing over my own death warrant. A testament to failure as an individual.

Here’s what was on the questionnaire. I had to mark each statement 0-3 with 0 meaning never and 3 representing nearly every day.

1. Little interest or pleasure doing things 3
2. Feeling down, depressed or hopeless 3
3. Trouble falling or staying asleep 3
4. Feeling tired or having little energy 3
5. Poor appetite or overeating 3
6. Feeling bad about yourself 3
7. Trouble concentrating on things 3
8. Moving slowly/being fidgety 2
9. Thoughts you would be better off dead 0
10. Feeling nervous or anxious 3
11. Not able to control worries 3
12. Worrying too much 3
13. Trouble relaxing 3
14. Becoming easily annoyed 3
15. Feeling afraid as if something awful might happen 3

It was quite a relief to answer statement 9 with a zero. Things aren’t irretrievable at least. But still, I’m caught between looking at the list wondering whether most people think like this anyway and feeling quite sad reading the reality of the situation.

How on earth did it get to this? And of course – in true journalistic style – who exactly is to blame?

What I had forgotten about all of this – compared to my previous experience when I was in my late teens – was to what extent this ‘thing’ a lot of people find themselves suffering from from time to time is a pernicious kind of thing.

A deceiving kind of illness. Bandy the word depression around and people start assuming they have to tread on eggshells around you. That you are somehow completely and utterly disabled. Unable to perform basic tasks. No good to anyone. And that you need to be completely roped off.

And yet it’s not always like that. Sometimes it can exist just underneath the surface, like a pigment in the skin, or a locked colour correction casting a bias across every shot. Difficult to remove because the operator can’t remember how it got there in the first place.

There’d will be pockets of the day when suddenly the ‘layer’ goes away. When it’s forgotten about. Clouds parting to reveal the deep blue sky. It’s not always on the surface. Sometimes it dissipates. Damn it for being so inconsistent.

And then there’s the shame. Should I be so open about all of this? Is there a danger? A massive risk? Most people will be understanding. Some might engage reading about it. But you know there’ll be someone out of touch with reality who judges and scorns. Maybe that’s why it’s good to document the process.

Audio: BBC Proms Diary 2009

The arrival of my Proms Season Ticket soothes the stresses and strains of a demanding day

I didn’t get anywhere near the end of my to-do list at work today. Come to think of it I barely moved off the first thing on the list.

There were too many distractions. Too many people asking me how to make this, that or the other work. I lost count of the number of times I had to remind myself exactly what it was I was working on before I was interrupted.

No matter, I thought. I’ll go to the gym. I’ll break the back of my motivation and commitment issues by making the second trip to the gym this evening.

It never happened. I left work too late, the tube train there took too long to arrive, I lost patience and so I went home instead.

And when I got home? What did I discover there?

Something very, very special indeed.

It’s getting nearer

Looking ahead to the beginning of the BBC Proms 2008

Like the rumble of a distant timpani roll, the BBC Proms season nears its start.

I ended up trotting up to Prince Consort Road this evening to drop off the passport pictures for my season ticket, using the opportunity to time exactly how long it takes to go from High Street Kensington tube station to the Royal Albert Hall.

It felt like it was a considerably shorter route, although the journey home via South Kensington confirmed that there’s really nothing in it at all.

It’s ridiculous. The more I look at it in the cold light of day – to be a part of the media industry it seems one has to look at things at objectively as one possibly can – all I am really getting excited by is a great long series of concerts which stretch out over the summer. They’re mostly from the same venue too. There must be countless concerts in the capital and up and down the country throughout the rest of the year too, and yet this particular concert series always sets my heart racing. It’s like Christmas all over again and a completely different Christmas from the Eurovision-related hysteria I always succeed in getting myself succombing to.

This year sees me purchasing a season ticket for the first time. I’d always sworn blind I was a radio and tv consumer, preferring to imagine the interior of the Royal Albert Hall over actually being there. Now I feel as though I want to be a part of it and, it seems, a season ticket is the best way to subscribe.

Roll on Friday and the First Night.

Getting things ship shape and Bristol fashion

Setting up the Thoroughly Good Blog on WordPress for the first time after two successful years on Yahoo 360

Like what you see? I do rather like it myself. It will certainly suffice for now. There’s something so terribly fresh about the design, the title font and this font come to that. I do get so very excited about fonts.  

This is the start of the Thoroughly Good Blog version 2. This posting isn’t the usual kind of tentative start to a blog. You know the kind of mean “I’m not really sure what to do with or what to say but I’m going to use it as a diary … “ Blah blah blah.  

No, this is merely the continuation of a blog which originally started on the Yahoo 360 network. It’s been going for 18 months but the time has come to strike out and provide more people with an opportunity to leave comments. At least, that’s the hope. 

Some people will probably look down their noses and say “Oooh, you’ve left this too late” or “Don’t you think you ought to make it look consistent with the other blog before you start on this one?” 

Possibly. But thinking about it on the way to work this morning, I rather liked the idea of people having the opportunity to have a nose around the place whilst the new blog is being built and fitted out. It’s a bit like having the opportunity to wander around the house you’ve commissioned someone else to build as they build it. I’m hoping the builders will be finished by 15 July, because the 15 July is a big for so many different reasons.  

Between now and then and the foreseeable after, don’t think there won’t be anything to read on here. Don’t think either that the stuff to read on here is a mere repetition of the stuff on the Thoroughly Good Blog on Yahoo. There’ll be bits and pieces everywhere. You will, I’m in no doubt, be totally sick of the words Thoroughly Good Blog come 15 July.