Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A St Trinian's Twist to 'High School' Playlist....

 A thank you to Miss Simmonds for tagging me for a High School Playlist...
However, I do have to admit to a few things - the most important being the fact that I'm not exactly sure what period high school represents, but I assume it means the years leading up to 'O' Level exams, as they were known back then! 
  So I confess; firstly, as a dinosaur my 'high school' days date back to the later seventies and very early eighties; secondly and perhaps consequently, this is such a long time ago that the term 'high school' was rarely, if ever used except in American cults such as Happy Days and of course...... Grease; thirdly, I can't think of 5 people to tag for this because the last lot I tagged for their Seven Sins were otherwise occupied or were maybe above such things anyway; fourthly I couldn't limit myself to just 5 songs so I increased it to make up for the 5 people I won't be tagging! So here we go - although not necessarily in any correct chronological order.
As I was saying, the notion of high school was a weird amalgam of images revolving around bobby socks, boob tubes (Olivia Newton John style), bubble gum, bangs (alias a fringe), orthodontic braces (I did eventually get a much-needed one) and the Brady Bunch. High school definitely seemed to be an exotic American concept that was very far removed from our class of hybrid English roses from the all-girl grammar school, who, despite uniforms, socks and scraped-back hair bore little ressemblance to Britney Spears... St Trinian's, of the vintage late 1950's variety, does spring to mind even if we never had to actually wear a gymslip or hat.
 Nevertheless, we did live through the Grease years first hand, though I don't think I really 'got' any of it at the time. Being about thirteen then must have been the equivalent to being about eight years old today, with even less pocket money, street credibility and wisdom, certainly in my case at least. All this was in the days before any mod-cons (videos/DVDs/CDs - YouTube) so it was really something to actually possess a copy of the (vinyl, of course) album. Somehow we did manage to follow the official clips with great devotion on Top of the Pops and religiously track the progression of the records on Sunday night's Top 4O on Radio 1! It makes me laugh to listen to the lyrics now, especially the ones to Look at me.... because I hadn't really got a grip on what virginity actually was. This was only two years after some street-wise girl asked me (fresh in from the country) whether I was "still a virgin" and I just couldn't work out at which point I was supposed to have actually started sharing a similarity with Jesus' mother. No, sadly I'm not making this up; my only knowledge of such terms was from hymns and Christmas carols (... "the Virgin's womb" and such like...). In the end I decided it was a safer bet to strongly deny being a 'Virgin'; I don't think she believed me!

The result of watching Grease was that I was desperate to have a girlie 'sleep-over' (and sadly never did have one) and also pined for a baby-doll nightie (this I sadly did obtain). Some time before my Grease period I had a best friend who lived 'up country', well, actually in one of the nearest big towns in the county which wasn't so far away, but I had to get a train (alone!!) to get there. This girl was very pretty and incredibly 'with it' and went to a big comprehensive school, complete with boys, who needlessly to say, found her irresistible. She took me to a disco, and tried to teach me a few basic steps that TOTPs hadn't. This was when Bay City Rollers were still comparatively hot and my friend actually had a pair of the compulsory flared trousers with various scraps of tartan - the ultimate touch of cool. I don't think I really passed the test on any front and remember her face when she later enquired if I happened to know any girls who'd "got in the club" (ie pregnant). I asked what club she was talking about, thinking that whatever the club was, it had to be really cool....and that I ought to be in it. 
Fast forward a few years and out came the single from Squeeze, 'Up the Junction' whose lyrics are quite moving in fact. 

Go on a little further in time and there was a similar theme in another of my favourite songs - The Specials 'Too Much, Too Young' - a statement that could never have been applied to me.

The first real teenage record I acquired was Jilted John's 'Gordon is a Moron' whose novelty feature was the relatively daring use of 'rude' words on the BBC, and the funny dancing, of course...
The name Gordon reminds me of another great track a few years later by XTC - Making Plans for Nigel. This makes me think of a choice specimen of a Nigel who I used to observe in the church choir when I accompanied my friend to Sunday morning Mass. The observation was not out of admiration because he had certainly not been blessed in the physique department but because he was in among the other boys dutifully singing away (we were at an all-girls school so boys were obviously thin on the ground). We would try to catch the attention of the more palatable males while the offended and offensive Nigel would make most un-Catholic gestures at us when the priest wasn't looking!

Despite her relatively strict Catholic education my friend actually read NME (how sophisicated did that seem!), listened to Radio Caroline and generally seemed to be in know of all things trendy and introduced us others to such things in due course - a pattern of affairs she kept up for years. She was a big fan of the Boomtown Rats and I followed suit - severely lacking any capacity for such innovation myself. Nevertheless I can still rattle off all the lyrics to 'Rat Trap'...

 If all else failed, we could always resort to parents' records if we thought it worthwhile - good taste not necessarily being one of the criteria. 'Werewolves of London' by Warren Zevon used to be brought out regularly from my parents' collection. The lyrics are so whacky...

My first choice of real album - 'The Kick Inside' by Kate Bush - was and still is of remarkably good taste and I play it now - preferably on my record player (replica) which faithfully picks up all the scratchy bits so that my ears anticipate the old jolts on the vinyl.

Just after I bought the album with my carefully-saved summer job money all those years ago it got warped in the sunlight, yet always managed to play (wouldn't really like to comment on the resistance of temperamental CDs). I thought Kate Bush's Wuthering Heights was magical, and have treasured her music ever since. We used to listen to all the tracks and marvel...especially at this one, Moving, with the whales' songs in the intro.
Another great female singer was Lene Lovich - my favourite was 'Bird Song'.

A little later I discovered Peter Gabriel with Solsbury Hill, and seemed to work my ways backwards from there as I came across his work with the old Genesis line-up. I loved the real weird, whacky lyrics, make-up and costumes... 
In spite of lots of great music, being 16 years old was no fun - and I have a whole host of depressing memories based on nothing particularly substantial or specific, just teenage fog, mist and misery and would not wish to sample 'Sweet Sixteen' again. The year was hideous on all counts, but I did manage to get the necessary 'O' Levels and life after that was great! Funnily enough, in that last year of 'O' Levels the grammar school system (segregated sexes) was scrapped, but our classes still didn't get to share lessons with the boys!
I did vow dramatically at that age that my life's ambition was to live in France. I'd already been severely linguistically challenged by Plastic Bertrand's 'Ca plane pour Moi' (and still can't sing along to it) and then won over by Visage's 'Fade to Grey'.

So listening to Fade to Grey takes me right back to that period and then leads, logically, onto my final song - from Talking Heads - 'Once in a Lifetime' which in turn leads me to the present time with a few questions I may well ask myself....

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Brumes et Pluie... Baudelaire

Spring is finally here and the bright afternoon sun and relatively warm temperature certainly reflect this right now. However, the early morning shows a more mysterious, murky side...  I went out around the cathedral today to see the eerie effects of the mist around the towers and spires before they disappeared, literally into thin air...

The mist gradually lifting and blue skies emerging...

                                                       Brumes et Pluie - Charles Baudelaire
                                         Ô fins d'automne, hivers, printemps trempés de boue,
                                         Endormeuses saisons ! je vous aime et vous loue
                                         D'envelopper ainsi mon coeur et mon cerveau
                                         D'un linceul vaporeux et d'un vague tombeau.

                                        Dans cette grande plaine où l'autan froid se joue,
                                        Où par les longues nuits la girouette s'enroue,
                                        Mon âme mieux qu'au temps du tiède renouveau
                                        Ouvrira largement ses ailes de corbeau.

                                        Rien n'est plus doux au coeur plein de choses funèbres,
                                        Et sur qui dès longtemps descendent les frimas,
                                        Ô blafardes saisons, reines de nos climats,

                                        Que l'aspect permanent de vos pâles ténèbres,
                                        Si ce n'est, par un soir sans lune, deux à deux,

                                        D'endormir la douleur sur un lit hasardeux.
Milky blue skies....
Jeanne d'Arc fighting against all adversities...
Reminiscent of the stone angels in Doctor Who...
I'm thinking of going to see Woman in Black for a dose of misty atmospheric England, even though I haven't heard any good reviews of the film...

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Domestic drudgery...

No time to write anything because all the household hassles are homing in on my free space. However, just as I was thinking that things couldn't possibly get worse on the domestic-chore front, I remembered this advert that I used in one of my lessons, and realised that they could, indeed, be a whole  lot worse....

I don't know which would be the lesser evil - being the happy recipient of such a glorious 'gift', or having a husband who would actually propose such an item in the first place and then expect to be "thanked" three times a day. I would like to know if the "little woman" would be able to fit the head of such a thoughtful husband into the opening of the In-Sink-Erator both "quickly and quietly".

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Catleya....Cattleya... The Flower Duet.

I like looking around the very old ‘atmospheric’ parts of graveyards where the tombs are rarely carved from ageless, yet soulless marble, and you may come across the flights of spirituality and creativity displayed through the graves. However, what I particularly enjoy noting are the names of those long-since departed, ornately engraved into the headstones, even if now barely legible. With the erosion of time and the elements many of the inscriptions seem to have melted away like the icing on some intricate wedding cake.
But that’s not all – the very names themselves seem to have dissolved from our repertoire today so that however original we think we are when naming a child the result is somewhat bland in comparison. How can you compete with the resonance of Seraphina, Euphemia, Ophelia, Zillah, Cornelia, Araminta, Phineas, Clarence, Lucius or the beautiful name Zepherin that I discovered inscribed on a stone today… Some would seem more than a little heavy today, and would prove to be a great weight to carry, but I rejoice in seeing them nevertheless. Yet even if I mourn the passing of such unusual, yet dignified names I do occasionally encounter some odd specimens in the living world of today. Cattleya, as a girl’s name, must be the most noticeable one to date….. 
 Cattleya is the innocent-sounding name given to the highly-popular species of orchids that decorate interiors far and wide. Originating in Central and South America these were brought to England towards the 1820’s, apparently largely by fluke, as legend has it. Indeed the plants had been used to bulk up the containers of other botanical specimens to be shipped abroad. Finally arriving in England these ‘new’ plants were cultivated out of curiosity by a certain William Cattley. Producing unusual scented flowers of lavender, crimson and gold with distinctive frilly-edged labellum, this particular orchid was named Cattleya in 1824 in Cattley’s honour by a famous botanist. The term was to be applied to the other 113 species of the genus and the cattleya heralded the beginning of a craze for orchids amongst Victorians already avid for exotic ferns and foliage. Today the thirst for the ubiquitous orchid seems to be stronger than ever, to the point that I see them everywhere, but sadly never notice them anymore…
 Since everything seemed to be have been killed off by the cold weather last month I decided to go to a garden centre just to see something bright and blooming. Looking closely at the orchids I rediscovered just how incredibly exotic these plants truly are. The colour, shape, texture and the visual perfection of the petals are oddly artificial in their beauty. They truly seem to have a form that goes beyond mere physical function – the attraction of pollinators… 
  The 19th century French author Marcel Proust (1871-1922) presumably read more into the form of the Cattleya too and certainly gave the flower a whole new meaning. In his novel Un Amour de Swann, second part of Du côté de chez Swann from the vast A la recherche du temps perdu, the reader encounters the nascent infatuation of Swann for the demi-mondaine, Odette de Crécy, and witnesses his amourous overtures. In an attempt to gain a sentimental and physical proximity to the object of his ‘love’, Swann chooses to reposition the orchids that Odette pins onto the plunging neckline of her evening gowns. Seeing that this flower-arrangement ploy brings him what he most desires, Swann uses the expression “faire catleya” to signify the physicality he wishes to pursue.
  I remember our (male) French teacher explaining all of this to us in class, telling us to look at the orchid itself in order to understand the expression better, and I certainly recall how we embarrassed we were when the saw the flower in question… I had forgotten that Proust had chosen to write his verb with a single ‘t’, and so on encountering the student of that name I couldn’t believe that parents would give such a heavily-weighted appellation their unsuspecting offspring. How raunchy – even if we are in France! I didn’t like to inquire in front of the class, but later realized that she was named in honour of the virginal orchid after all! I was a little disappointed… 
I did see the film Un Amour de Swann when it came out in 1984. I don’t now remember what I thought of the film itself at the time, I was too busy trying to keep up with the French language and look at Jeremy Irons!
Un Amour de Swann
Watching extracts again today I just love the elegance of the clothes and interiors, with or without the Cattleya. I grew out of Jeremy Irons…
 The orchids I saw recently reminded me of the Lakmé opera by Léo Delibes – the Flower Duet. This was a work based on the novel Rarahu by the French writer Pierre Loti, describing the ill-fated love between Lakmé, an Indian girl, and Gerald , a British colonial officer. The romantic exoticism of the piece contrasted with the social naturalism apparent in art and literature in the latter part of 19th France and fed an interest for all things Oriental. 
Clicking on the computer I discovered an association of names that certainly hadn’t occurred to me…  I had never fully appreciated the beauty of Charlotte Church’s voice. Her classical singing seems to defy all natural barriers or concepts – it goes into a realm that seems unnatural in its perfection. 
Below is Lakmé’s part in the Flower Duet scene, singing with her servant Mallika as they gather jasmin and roses by the river. The opera was first performed in Paris in 1883; I don’t know if Proust would have seen a performance at a later date.
Proust’s tomb can be seen at the Père-Lachaise cemetery, Paris – in sober, black marble – again I was a bit disappointed...
                                                Dôme épais le jasmin
                                                A la rose s'assemble
                                                Rive en fleurs frais matin
                                                Nous appellent ensemble
                                                Ah! glissons en suivant
                                                Le courant fuyant
                                                Dans l'on de frémissante
                                                D'une main nonchalante
                                                Gagnons le bord,
                                                Où l'oiseau chante, l'oiseau, l'oiseau chante
                                                Dôme épais, blanc jasmin
                                                Nous appellent ensemble!

The humble cabbage - the only 'flower' to have survived winter in the town centre!