Sunday, January 27, 2008

A Weekend of Song

After a long week I wasn’t really looking forward to a weekend packed with Chorus activity, particularly as the last couple of days of the week I had been plagued by some minor ailment that left me with a headache and feeling weary all day, so I rather fancied a weekend to indulge myself. In the end though – as I should recognise is almost inevitably the case – the singing was a tonic for me; whatever lassitude remained was banished and, despite the time and effort involved, I felt thoroughly perked up by the recording sessions.

The weekend started on Friday night with a 5:30pm call to the Barbican where we were being employed to do a couple of half-hour sets in the gallery hosting the ‘Final Seduction’ exhibition.

The music all went well enough but the exhibition itself was the remarkable aspect of the evening; all about the Art of sex, it rather left me with the impression that, at least of late, there wasn’t any (art, that is.) Some of the classical work counted as art; there were some lovely oriental miniatures, baroque oil paintings and ancient statues but, of the more modern contributions, there were very few that I’d consider hanging on my own wall.

Some of it was just plain bad; there were some highly ‘impressionist’ pen-and-ink scrawls, an installation piece which was basically a slide show of a series of couples living their intimate lives and, in another area, a wall-filling silent movie close-up of a woman pleasuring herself while Fauré’s Requiem filled the room. The gallery in which we sang had only three pieces on the wall; large explicit photographs which could easily have been stills from the porn movie of your choice. Erotica? Maybe. Art? Not in my view.

Anyway, after our second set was finished, I headed straight home and slept.

Saturday was an early start to be at the Henry Wood Hall by 10am. The Chorus is recording most of the repertoire from our recent Palladium concert, Accentuate The Positive, as a CD. Last time we did a recording we had trouble getting people to turn up, but this time was much more enthusiastic and we had almost the full choir there. Everyone also seemed to adjust easily to the differing requirements of a recording studio rather than a live venue; the Chorus does have a tendency to bellow when asked to sing loudly, but with sensitive microphones surrounding us we seemed to overcome the urge for once and mostly produced controlled performances. Things inevitably ran late though…

In any case I ducked out early as I needed to cross town and get on a train to Newbury with Ping. Brett had long ago organised us tickets to a production of Merrily We Roll Along at the Watermill Theatre. It was produced by the same guy who did the Company revival in New York that we so loved last year and the production style here was very similar. That said, this show didn’t grab me nearly as much as Company had; it was a professional production though, so well done in that sense.

The theatre on the other hand really did grab me; apparently an old converted mill-house with a hugely picturesque mill pond overhung by weeping willows. In fact it was all so perfectly beautiful that I wondered if it might not be partly artifice. Either way, it’s somewhere I’d like to go back to on a sunny Sunday afternoon to spend some time relaxing. The pre-dinner buffet in front of the open log fire was quite decent too!

The three of us then drove home again, which took a while longer than I expected. I hadn’t realised quite how far out Newbury was!

Today it was back to the CD recording – although only for an afternoon start which meant a bit of quality time with my man in the morning. Today it was the big showtunes; Being Alive, What I Did For Love, One Night Only, Seasons of Love as well as the beautiful Parting Glass and a re-take of Je Ne Regrette Rien, which had had technical difficulties yesterday. It was a second long day, but I still came away feeling buoyed. I am really looking forward to getting a copy of the finished CD now!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Joy of Song

Strange day today; felt washed-out and fucked-off through most of it, left work early to have a leisurely dinner and spend some time reading before the compulsory Chorus rehearsal tonight. In the end though the singing did me the world of good, it was the final rehearsal for the CD recording which we’re doing this weekend and also for the small gig at the Barbican tomorrow night. I hadn’t originally signed-up to do that one, but I had so much fun singing tonight I thought I’d go along and pitch in; there’s a much nicer feeling to singing in a group of fifty than in a group of one-hundred and eighty!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The One About The Chorus Party

After Italy, the rest of the week was mundane at work.

The only other event of note happened on the Thursday evening; I had a long standing engagement with Ping to go see the Photographic Portrait Prize Exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. He had spent a lot of the day with his uncle and things overran a little, so I had dinner in the office and just met him at the gallery.

The finalists this time didn’t impress me as much as last year’s collection had and I was hard pressed to pick one that I’d want to hang on my own wall. Maybe it was just the fatigue dulling my senses or maybe their artistic vision extended along a dimension which I just couldn’t recognise. Perhaps next year…

Saturday was a lazy, non-productive day; my sole achievement being to send an email to friends telling them about a poker game I’m organising.

Saturday evening we went to the Chorus’ Annual Party (We typically hold it in January because we’re so busy performing around Christmas!) but it was all a bit formulaic; held in the long, dark downstairs bar of The Black Cap in Clapham, cheap food laid-on, a short chorus talent show followed by the Annual Awards (mostly light-hearted with a few serious.) We caught up with the people we know but didn’t stay very late.

Today I did some more shirt shopping, having not yet got enough decent ones to see me through a week, and also started looking at wedding venues again: At last night’s party we’d been chatting to John & Nick who got married just before Christmas and John & Rich who are planning theirs for next December and it got us thinking more about what we’d like to do. Watch this space; it may yet achieve critical mass!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

A Day in Bologna

This post would really be more correctly titled ‘A Long Day, a Different Office & a Hotel’ but that wouldn’t scan so well.

Since we got back from the States, things have been busy but good. A big project that was being planned through the second half of last year is now underway and I’m trying to manage my time well enough to keep on top of that as well as my regular management duties. One of those duties needed me at our Bologna Office and yesterday was the appointed day.

Given that I’m now into my second very early start in a row, it all seems a bit of a dreamlike fugue. The earliest train, being worried about making the connection at London Bridge, Gatwick being a seamless transition to an almost empty plane, the taxi ride to the office with the driver spending most of the time with mobile phone pressed to his ear… In the end I needn’t have worried about the connection; I only had to cross from one side of the platform to the other to make it and, at the other end, I survived the drive unscathed.

Our office in Bologna is spacious and new looking; although based in one of the imposing old buildings that line the colonnaded streets towards the centre of town, it’s salons of old have been turned into high-ceilinged office space. I was there mostly to help with the transition after losing a member of staff who had been very involved in their IT and office administration. It involved a couple of meetings with the senior staff and lunch with the Operations Manager, all of which was pleasant and productive.

Once the working day was over I hopped into a taxi to my hotel near the airport; I was overnighting at the Bologna Sheraton before catching an early flight back to London. The hotel was an interesting experience; a combination of an international brand with some stereotypical Mediterranean mañana attitude. It is a modern conference centre amid derelict lots on the outskirts of the airport; the foyer is clad in acres of marble and above your head floating bridges link one sinuous wing to the other. The rooms are spacious and nicely furnished and have all the modern conveniences – although the free Internet didn’t work and the only free channel on the television was the one that told you how to pay for the rest (and since they were all in Italian anyway there was no chance of that!)

Dinner in the restaurant was pleasant, although my tasty portion of taglioline with smoked salmon and asparagus was a little on the ‘nouveau’ side for the price. I ordered a cake for dessert to help fill me up but I suspect something was lost in the menu translation as what I was served was closer to a thick biscuit; again, a little bit smaller than I’d have hoped, but impeccably presented. The waiting staff had laid knife, fork and spoon for me when I ordered, clearly not wanting to be accused of limiting my options for how to eat the thing. The spoon seemed an unlikely choice – I had visions of dessert flying tiddlywink-like off the flatware and into the soup of the glamorous lady at the next table – so I set-to with the knife and fork. This wasn’t really practical either but at least I managed to divide up the ‘cake’ into bite-size chunks without any projectile incidents. From there I proceeded with my fingers, which seemed more sensible than trying to scoop up the fragments with either fork or spoon. Dignity is all in the mind and today I was a positive thinker.

I got as early a night as my body-clock would allow and, once asleep, slept well.

That body-clock of mine is a strange thing though; on a regular weekday my alarm goes off at 06:30 and it is a struggle to stay awake long enough to get up. Both days of this trip my alarm has been set for 04:30 – which today was effectively 03:30 – and yet both days I have snapped awake a few minutes before the alarm was due to go off and had no trouble immediately getting out of bed: The human mind once again displaying its peculiar flexibility I think.

This has got to be the only hotel I have ever encountered where breakfast service begins at 04:45. I suppose it makes sense for an airport hotel though and it suited me fine as I needed to eat around 05:15. The lights were still dimmed when I came down, the few guests in evidence moved like silent grey ghosts, accompanied only by the hum of the wheels on their carry-on bags and occasional, subdued conversation at Reception.

I mused as I sat in the foyer awaiting the courtesy bus about the attempt at oriental styling that I hadn’t noticed the previous evening. It only amounted to a few large bonsai and some bamboo furniture and I wondered if perhaps it was part of the Sheraton brand that the Italians just couldn’t be bothered with; it seemed too half-hearted an effort to have been a real intention of the hotel’s interior designer.

Although the airport shops were all closed (so no pannetone gifts for the team or my sister) the airport was a breeze; In the past I’ve not done much travelling in the mode of jet-setting businessman but between printing your own boarding pass at the office and travelling with just a carry-on, it’s all fairly painless. (On Tuesday I had even managed to find a branch of Boots which stocked travel-size toiletries, so I came equipped with the full range of bathroom paraphernalia in sub-100ml containers; far nicer than making do with the cheap hotel-provided bodywash and shampoo.)

The flight was uneventful and being chased by the dawn gave it a certain beauty; all textured horizons and cloud peaks tipped with peachy-pink morning sunlight.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs

We went to the Dome today to see Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs. Rosie, Brett and I met up with Ping and Rod & Jess and had lunch at a branch of Zizzi before going on into the exhibition.

I have to say I was somewhat disappointed by it; there were some pretty impressive artefacts, including statues and a gilded coffin, but throughout the exhibition there was a general sense of building up to the Tut artefacts; the penultimate gallery contained a group of really beautiful things either used by the pharaoh or wrapped with his mummy; pectorals, a flail and crook, a diadem he wore. Then you move through into the final gallery… for a presentation of x-ray and CAT-scan images of the mummy. It was a bit of an anticlimax; I’d expected not to see the Death Mask but had expected one or more of the other major items from the tomb to be on show. Should have done my homework I suppose…

Maybe we should schedule that Egyptian holiday ahead of a tour the Pacific northwest.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Journey Home

Wednesday was all about the journey home; early start to pick up the suits, brunch with those of the family who could make it, then the trip out to DFW, the pre-flight hassle (which wasn’t actually bad at all) and then the flight itself. I didn’t manage to sleep much but kept occupied throughout.

Disembarked early into a mild morning at Gatwick. Still got a few days of the holiday left though!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

New Year's Day

Alarm at 4:30am, to be packed, checked out and at the next-door hotel by 6am for a pick up and transfer to the airport for our 7am helicopter tour of the Hoover Dam, Lake Mead, The Grand Canyon and the Las Vegas Strip.

Plenty of good photo-opportunities from the air – although a lot of them spoiled by reflections of me in the glass. Probably better to check out the pictures though… We stopped for breakfast at a ranch at the half-way point and spent a while looking up at Spirit Mountain, drinking coffee and enjoying the warmth of the wood-burning stove. The morning was clear but cold; there was ice over the streams and the horses’ water troughs and the place had a serene feel to it – albeit somewhat diluted by one of the ranch hands running a bulldozer back and forward over the yard for some reason… It may be a ‘dude ranch’ but they still have some genuine work to do.

As well as the tour stop-offs, they also do overnight trips where you come for dinner, sit round a campfire and sleep in a log cabin. It may sound cheesy, but I wouldn’t mind doing it; I enjoy camping when someone else is doing all of the chores!

Brett and I were talking later about our future holiday plans and we both agreed we enjoy the natural phenomena more than the manmade sights like Las Vegas - not that we haven’t enjoyed Vegas and we may yet return for a second trip, but it’s not refreshing especially; it’s a big city just like London except some of the attractions are different. We are thinking of doing some kind of a road-trip, like the one I did back in 2002. We made an abortive attempt at planning an itinerary down the west coast of the USA last year, but it proved too difficult to get everything into one trip, so I think there may be a few trips covering less ground being planned in the coming years.

Anyway, the helicopter trip back to the city was smooth and direct. The courtesy coach’s first stop was at our hotel, so we had enough time to take in the King Tut museum at the Luxor before heading to the airport. We are visiting the real Tutankhamen exhibition at the Dome on Friday anyway and a Las Vegas’ Casino recreation had lots of potential to be bad, but it was advertised as showing recreations of many of the major artefacts found in the tomb, as well as a reconstruction of the tomb itself that I was sure wouldn’t be part of the exhibit of the originals. In the end it was worth the $10; the descriptions of the items were sometime comical in their poor grammar, but the recreations of the thrones, chariots, necklaces, shabti and tomb furniture were impressive to see up close; particularly the golden sarcophagus. I wasn’t awed in the way I expect to be in the presence of the real thing, but now I can better imagine what Carter saw when he opened the tomb.

After the museum, we were both beginning to feel the strain; they’ve been pretty much non-stop days in Vegas, so we decided just to head to the airport, see if we could get an earlier flight and, if not, doze at the gate until we were called.

All the flights that day were already overbooked (including ours) so we had to wait for our booked slot. We had lunch and then took advantage of McCarran’s free Internet to check mail, upload blogs and so forth. We were travelling with only carry-on baggage and the can of deodorant that I’d unwittingly ‘smuggled’ through security at DFW got flagged and confiscated by security. Such is life. At least I’d thought to leave my Leatherman in Dallas!

The flight back to Dallas was no less cramped or temperate than the flight out had been and I was glad when it was over and I could uncoil from my seat. We got a fairly early night once back at the house; it had been a very long day.