Sunday, 22nd October, 2023

[Day 1315]

Today being a Sunday, Meg and I switched into a slightly lower gear and took our time to get up, dressed and breakfasted. Then we texted our University of Birmingham friend to arrange a rendez-vous for later in the morning. Earlier this the morning, I tumbled across a cultural phenomenon of which I was ignorant. After undertaking a quick perusal of the various scatter cushions that we had lying on chairs and settees in our lounge, I discovered that we had four cushions which one way or another incorporated elephants into the design – from where we had acquired them, I cannot now remember but it was certainly not an Asian source as such. I can remember quite vividly that when you enter the mediaeval style market immediately adjacent to the cathedral in Granada in Southern Spain, there are several sellers of stunningly designed tapestries and cushion covers which we have often bought as occasional presents and then given away. These are probably made in Morocco or the Spanish ‘possessions’ on the North African coast but that is by the by. I went onto the web and with a search term of ‘cushion covers-elephants’ discovered that there seems to be a huge and thriving market in cushion covers with an elephant motif. There was even a website advertising that one could purchase cut-price elephant design cushion covers from them. All of this was absolute news to me as I evidently had not realised that these items were so popular in a certain section of the public. Now elephant bookends I can well understand because they convey elements of strength and solidity and are liable to be made out of more substantial material sufficient to hold back the weight of a row of books but cushion covers are another thing. After we had breakfasted, we met with our University of Birmingham friend in the Waitrose cafeteria and, as usual, spent an interesting hour talking about this and that. We had both been in the East Midlands yesterday as our friend was accompanying his local rugby team and the coach driver had to detour around floods.

We lunched today on some on some gammon, cooking in the slow cooker whilst we were out. After lunch, we accessed the full i.e. paid for version of Amazon music and came across (or had selected for us by the Amazon algorithm) an absolutely magnificent concert of mainly Bach pieces played by Dutch musicians. What was so wonderful about the performances, which were all superb, was that the Dutch musicians had evidently just come along in their own casual clothing i.e. not in formal concert attire and in some ways this enhanced the quality of the music they were performing. The camera focussed on the faces of the performers who seemed to be singing with the utmost concentration and dedication to the import of the music. In many ways, that is a very ‘Dutch’ way of doing things as we know from Dutch friends and our trips to the Netherlands. A quick reference to Wikipedia about the performances on Amazon music revealed following. The Netherlands Bach Society is the oldest ensemble for Baroque music in the Netherlands, and possibly in the world. The ensemble was founded in 1921 in Naarden to perform Bach’s St Matthew Passion on Good Friday and has performed the work annually since then in the Grote of Sint-Vituskerk (Great Church or St Vitus Church). The ensemble is now 100 years old. Due to the 100 year landmark, the Society is publishing a new and freely accessible recording every two weeks, including HD video of all 1080 works of Johann Sebastian Bach, performed by members of the ensemble and guest musicians under the title ‘All of Bach’. Meg and I found the performances absolutely absorbing and there were several things that were completely new to me. One of these was a performance of a concerto for four harpischords (and orchestra) which is a piece of Bach absolutely new to me. The harpischords seemed to have two manuals (keyboards) and this, too, is new in my experience. Many of the instruments played appeared to be baroque e.g. wooden rather than metallic flutes which give a much more mellow rather than glittering sound. It also struck me that many of the performances in the YouTube video were evidently taken place in churches with the audience in (hard) wooden benches and, typically, with the minimum of clutter around the walls. It struck me that this is an ideal environment in which to play Bach and other early baroque such as Vivaldi as the reverberations of the sound were much more likely to add tone and colour to the performance whereas in a modern (spacious) concert hall, a lot of this would be lost. Every year, we attend concerts organised by the Bromsgove society in our own church and the local Anglican church (the largest in Bromsgrove) and here again I am convinced that the performances, often just a solo violinist with keyboard accompanent, will give a higher quality of emotional and acoustic pleasure than would be the case in a modern concert hall.

Yesterday came the sad news of the death of Sir Bobby Charlton. Both he and his brother Jack died of dementia (too much heading of the leather ball?) and Sir Bobby survived the Munich Air disaster in 1958. There were 23 fatalities and 21 survivors – eight of the Manchester United team died including Duncan Edwards regarded as the finest player of his generation. Bobby Charlton survived (found trapped in his seat some distance from the wreckage) and he helped to pull two other surviers from the wreckage. I was at school in Bolton, Lancashire (just north of Manchester) at the time and the whole school was left in profound shock.