I normally only write this blog when travelling and usually when travelling abroad. But I haven’t done that since Christmas in Cadiz in 2019 so it’s been a while. However the last week has involved travel and events that hint at some sort of normal life again. The week began with me getting unexpected praise for writing something completely outside my comfort zone so I posted it on my Verbalists blog. It was a piece of music criticism as homework for a short series of webinars from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.
So last Saturday I ventured to the wilds of east London (Gants Hill) for a delicious lunch and stimulating discussion with one member of the group BBPC (British Bangladeshi Poetry Collective) of which I am honoured to be a trustee. I was invited by Shamim and Eeshita Azad who I worked with in Bangladesh way back in 2009. My poet and artist friend and I are working on a translation project where she finds my editing experience a help. As I told her she mines the jewels; I just give them a bit of a polish. We made good progress and had a fun time. So why was the day spoiled by taking me nearly an hour to get back through the Blackwall Tunnel? What were all these people doing on a Saturday evening?
Sunday and Monday were consumed by domestic and gardening duties which proved fun in the sun and both flowers, fruit and vegetables are coming on nicely and I have a neat front hedge.
On Tuesday morning the four of us who are the executives and trustees of BBPC were subjected to a 90 minute grilling – not she wasn’t that fierce, a gentle toasting – by a bank manager, making sure we were who we said we were, what we planned to do and I suppose to make sure that we weren’t a front for a money-laundering operation. We survived and hope to have a bank account to go with our newly acquired status as a Community Interest Company. We had a splendid picnic that evening to celebrate becoming a real company. More excellent Bangladeshi food and the company of friends, oh how we’ve missed that!
On Wednesday Eeshita and I attended an excellent British Library streamed lecture by Jhumpa Lahiri about the art of translation something we will be featuring in BBPC workshops. She is Bangladeshi but now an American citizen teaching at Princeton and has just published Thresholds in English which is a translation she made herself from the novel she originally wrote in Italian after moving to Rome a decade ago to steep herself in Italian language and culture. Thought-provoking, informative and stimulating words from a fierce intellect who shared her thoughts with great clarity.
And as that wasn’t enough excitement, in the evening I conducted a Zoom interview for The Watford Treasury a magazine I help to edit. Talking to a Watford striker hero always gives me a buzz but Tom Smith as he is now, Tommy when playing, was charming, thoughtful, generous of time and gave me just what I required for an article I’m writing.
Then the real fun started on Thursday. I actually drove to Putney to pick up my friend Jadwiga and headed off for Glyndebourne to see Janacek’s Kat’a Kabanova. It’s the first time since 2019 and we were blessed with a glorious sunny day and had booked a hotel in Lewes so as not to have to rush back to London after the performance. We arrive in time to change and book a cab. Mad Mike panic – I normally keep cufflinks in the pocket of my DJ jacket, but after its last use it went to the dry cleaners. Taxi imminent, no time to go shopping so quick improvisation required. Has reception got a stapler? Of course and duly sterilised it provided a new way with shirt cuffs as we made our way the Glyndebourne, passed through the temperature checks and venue log in and went to pick up our picnic which we’d booked in the marquee for the interval. Glyndebourne is doing a big thing with local winery Nytimber and, well local businesses need support so drink was taken.
The opera was beautifully sung and played and is a heartening tale of disastrous marital infidelity leading to death – well it is opera. The score is dynamic and exciting and made for a fabulous evening and if you would like to you can read my review here.
It had been such a delight that on returning to the hotel in Lewes we decided a glass of wine would be a suitable accompaniment to discussing our views of the production. So we did that for a while and both agreed that while visual and direction aspects of the production were naff, the music and the experience were wonderful. As we were thinking about retiring two young ladies entered the bar, got themselves a drink and asked if they could join us. They were police officers due to give evidence in court on Friday and proved chatty and delightful companions as bottles rather than glasses were consumed and four people who should have known better struggled off to bed around 1.30 am.
The last time we visited Glyndebourne together it was glorious weather for the opera and biblical, monsoon rain next day, I might have been back in Dhaka. History repeated itself with one significant difference. Last time I’d left my car’s lights on by accident all night and had to call the AA who, after getting it started, advised driving solidly for two hours to recharge the battery. We zigzagged across Sussex and Kent before deciding it was safe to stop for lunch in Penshurst. The car was fine this year and took us through the deluge to Chichester where we had tickets at the Pallant House Gallery to see an exhibition From Degas to Picasso which was very impressive. But it did raise a question of access to art. All the paintings and prints were from the gallery’s own collection and was the exhibit was put together rather hastily once opening dates were known. There were more etchings, lithographs and screen prints than oils, but also a healthy selection of watercolours. We feasted our eyes but were saddened that all these images are normally hidden from view in a vault or storeroom. Here are two lithographs by Salvador Dali that showed a different side of his work – albeit with a few characteristics tics here and there.
Lunch in the café was pleasant and we were ready for a mercifully rain-free drive through the fabulously varied scenery of Sussex and Surrey via Midhurst and Haslemere marvelling that we were out of our homes and having a fine time with a friend. What a great end to a busy week!
Thanks to Farah Naz and Jadwiga Adey for some of the photographs.