Archive for the ‘birds’ category

Merry Christmas from Diana and Jonathan

December 22, 2010

Xmas Thrush

picture:  Breakfast at Thorney Park, January 2010 — photo by JB

…and what’s on the other side…

May 5, 2008

Cuckmere Haven

Well… sorry about all those deadlines I was supposed to be meeting today – but I couldn’t face being stuck indoors (it was a public holiday).  Having checked the weather forecast and discovered it had upgraded from ‘probably rainy’ to ‘mostly fine’ in the South-East, I hopped in the car (which also welcomed the chance to stretch its legs) and whizzed down to Sussex for my favourite walk, up and over Seaford Head, with the fabulous view of the Seven Sisters on the other side.

The thinnest of cloud and the lightest of breezes ensured the sun was not too blazing hot.  I travelled light – no jacket or sweater, no bag, no camera, just my phone.  I was well rewarded;  it was a glorious day, Seaford very quiet, a classic Monsieur Hulot-ish slightly eccentric unfashionable seaside resort.  Not many people about, apart from a coach load of Italian kids, singing, on a guided tour (when they weren’t singing they were being earnestly lectured by a tall gent in a long red coat, looking oddly like an escaped Cardinal.  But I digress).

Up on the clifftop path I was assailed by multitudes of flying insects.  No rabbits though (but plenty of evidence that they were about).  Rooks and seagulls everywhere, even sparrows (a rare sight these days), and some very pretty slim beige and brown bird which obligingly perched on the cliff edge before flying off and revealing a fetching white bum;  the bird book in the back of the car suggests it’s a Wheatear (female and/or in winter plumage).  I feel honoured. 

And the skylarks!  They are supposed to be a vanishing species too, but fortunately no one has told these chaps, who were singing their little hearts out ‘in profuse strains of unpremeditated art’, as Shelley described it.  I watched one skylark take off, and followed its soaring, singing flight until my neck ached and I began to think passers-by would think I looked like an idiot.  But as I walked on I could still hear it, hundreds of feet above me, for several minutes, until its song was lost among half a dozen others.

At the far end of the walk, instead of going down to the rather grubby beach (which I gather is called Hope Gap), I turned inland a bit, looking (in vain) for a viewpoint from which to see the sinuous curves and oxbows of the Cuckmere River.  My eye was caught by a triangular cairn I’d never noted before.  It turned out to be a war memorial, complete with faded poppies and crosses.  A plaque described how a company of Canadian soldiers in World War 2 had camped out in the valley, heedless of warnings that they were under the flight path of German bombers.  The next morning, sure enough, two Messerschmitts destroyed them all.  The Captain was shaving in one of the coastguard cottages, and was killed instantly ‘when a bomb came through the wall that held his mirror’.  A sad bit of history.

War memorial, Cuckmere

More details here, with the text of the plaque – the writer has had the same experience as I have just had!

Nikolai Demidenko at Blackheath

February 10, 2008

demidenko.jpgThe Burghers of Blackheath did themselves proud this morning – so many tickets sold for Nikolai Demidenko’s Blackheath Sunday recital that they had to move the gig downstairs into the Big Hall. Or was that just a pretext to hire in a big clangy Steinway (I guess) and leave the lovely little Bösendorfer sulking upstairs?

(There’s something about Demidenko’s appearance – short, hunched, bear-like, little beard, businesslike, unsmiling but not humourless – that reminded me of someone. I can’t quite think who it is: Malcolm Lowry? Arnold Dolmetsch? Peter Warlock? John Ogdon?)

I am forever grateful to the Powers that Be for setting Beethoven’s so-called ‘Moonlight’ Sonata, Op. 27 No. 2, on our O-level syllabus a hundred years ago – so I know it well, or so I thought. Nick Breckenfield’s fascinating programme note dismissed the ‘moonlight’ tag, but revealed that the first movement is a meditation on the music for the death of the Commendatore from Mozart’s Don Giovanni, a fact which I certainly had not come across before. This makes sense of the Sonata’s subtitle – ‘quasi una fantasia’: meaning not ‘an apology for not being in the sort of sonata form you’re used to’, but ‘like an improvisation’ on an idea by Mozart. An illuminating insight into Beethoven’s creative processes.

A friendly Burgher of Blackheath (who shall be nameless) was absent, as she’d been to a previous recital by Demidenko and said she couldn’t stand the way he played – he ‘bashed the hell out of Schubert’. In the first movement of the ‘Moonlight’, my worst fears seemed to be confirmed. The sound was dry, too loud, and broken up by little hesitations before barlines or even beats – the opposite of the constant flow of triplets the music surely needs. I guess (I couldn’t see his feet) that Demidenko was using hardly any pedal – in contradiction of Beethoven’s instruction to play ‘without dampers’, i.e. with the pedal down all the time (which admittedly wouldn’t work on a resonant modern piano, producing an impossibly muddy effect). Not pleasant.

Liszt called the tiny (more…)

Endymion at Blackheath

January 27, 2008
endymion2.jpg

Up the road again this morning, to a Blackheath Sunday concert by ENDYMION (who seem to have misguidedly adopted a new logo which plays fast and loose with the Greek alphabet – no doubt a source of great distress to linguists everywhere, who are still trying to recover from ‘TOYS “YA” US’.  You’re not called ‘SNDPSMIPHN’, are you?  Well then).

The Burghers of Blackheath remain a mystery to me.  Some Sundays, they will collectively decide the concert is not for them, and there may be just a couple of dozen people huddled in the recital room.  Today they were out in force – almost a full house, chattering excitedly.  The average age seems to be about 150 (where will the next generation of audiences come from??), so there was much clattering of sticks and whistling of hearing aids before the music began.    Thereafter, however, you could hear a pin drop (well, actually you could hear an infuriatingly running tap or overflow somewhere, which didn’t get turned off until the interval).

The Endymion Ensemble (founded in 1979 by my dear friend, bassoonist John Whitfield), used to be resident at Blackheath Halls, with an office in the lobby.  Good to welcome them back.  Today’s incarnation consisted of Michael Dussek (piano), Krysia Osostowicz (violin) and Stephen Stirling (horn) – who, if I am not mistaken, was playing in Britten’s Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Linbury Studio at the Royal Opera House yesterday – busy fellow.

Beethoven’s last Violin Sonata (No. 10 in G, Op. 96) is so blithe and laid-back and generally un-Beethovenian that you catch yourself wondering ‘What did he mean by that?’  Nick Breckenfield’s programme note describes the first movement as ‘an intimate, relaxed, long-breathed soirée’ – which is nice.  His theory is that the Sonata was a ‘therapeutic’ response to Beethoven’s stormy relationship with the mysterious ‘Immortal Beloved’.

Krysia Osostowicz played the Sonata with an expression that flitted between rapt concentration and a beatific smile.  In the past, her sound has sometimes seemed to me to be a touch lean and stringy, but not today – rich, secure and expressive.  Perhaps she has a new fiddle?  For once, the Hall’s priceless jewel of a Bösendorfer grand sounded too plummy for Beethoven.  Maybe put the lid on the short stick (i.e. half open)?

Then we had György Ligeti’s Trio (1982) – strong meat (more…)

Inappropriate Touching

October 13, 2007

Nuts
Suddenly large numbers of these rather sinister signs have sprung up all over Greenwich Park.  I guess they are saying ‘It’s all right to pick chestnuts up off the ground but don’t try to knock ‘em off the trees’.  But ‘It is forbidden to touch the trees in any way’ evokes some very peculiar images.

Presumably the second half of the sign is aimed at Japanese tourists?  (‘Yus, we know who’s responsible…’)  Or are there gangs of illegal Chinese workers, like cockle-pickers, intent on denuding our chestnut trees of their nuts?  (Are they a Chinese aphrodisiac?)

Incidentally the trees were full of yakking green parakeets, whose feral population is growing, and visibly migrating, year by year.  By next summer they’ll be in our back gardens;  several flocks of them, of twenty or thirty birds each, flew over me (yakking) as I walked home.  I have a horrible premonition that in ten years’ time they will have ousted all indigenous birdlife in the Park, if not the whole of the south of England. 

And have you noticed (more…)