Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Long Weekend in DC

Well, yes, I think I am understandably proud! For Jenny to be awarded a medal by the National Academy of Sciences, however much we might think she deserves it (we completely do!) is seriously up there with the great and the good, and we feel properly awed and humbled. Few are honored in this way, and it takes some getting used to, I can tell you.

Having made no secret of who I am and where I live, I'm a bit reluctant to announce in advance that I'm going to be away, so I apologise for the longish silence. We've been in Washington DC for the National Academy of Sciences award ceremony, where Jenny was given her gong. Flew out on Friday morning, got home Tuesday morning, and very pleasant it was. I'm planning to add a page to the family website, which will describe it in all its gory detail, but for now, here's a summary.

It was nice and warm for the first day and a half - 26°C, so that was OK. Chris, whom we've known for 20-odd years, lives just outside the city, so picked us up and took us to the Old Angler's Inn, where we had a smashing dinner outside, close by the Potomac, then a pleasant amble by the river for a bit as dusk fell.

Saturday he drove us to Shenandoah National Park, where amongst other things, we saw a humming bird and a wild turkey, thus the region's smallest and biggest birds, we think. Lots of rubbernecking at the views, of course.

Over lunch there was a magnificent thunderstorm and very heavy rain, so we timed that right! Excellent food was accompanied by a really nice Virginian white wine, which was something of a surprise. Never hear of them over here.

Sunday Jenny got her gong and it was roughly as you'd expect. Reception with wine and photos, lunch with more wine, garden party with more wine. Once we got home we went out to an Italian near our hotel and I don't remember too much of the evening after that!
The pic of Jenny holding her gong and stickyfoot (certificate) is after the ceremony, David Wake being the man who proposed her for the medal.

Monday we did the new Museum of the American Indian, which was interesting and had some impressive computer graphics, after which Chris took us to the airport and we flew home on the red-eye, arriving at 6.30 Tuesday morning. Not bad.

The last photo is a detail of a big blue board in the NAS Members' Room, on which the various medals they award are displayed, along with the names of recipients and the year of their awards. I took it so you could see some of the famous names, though I admit that a non-biologist might not recognise any of them!

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

A fantastic party and some brilliant ballet

On Saturday night we went to a friend's 40th birthday party. She's one of many who sponsor the Southbank Sinfonia, and had hired 5 of them to come and play for us, so we had half an hour of superb music from a wind quintet. Then there was excellent finger food, after which a 3-man band played rock classics until midnight, so there was lots of bopping. A thoroughly enjoyable evening, helped a lot by the fact that Jane was still feeling slightly under the weather and was quite happy to drive. Thanks Jane, and particularly for pouring us in through the front door when you got us home! To my astonishment, I didn't have a hangover the next day, though there was no doubt I deserved one!

On Sunday evening the usual 7 of us went to Cambridge Arts Theatre to see the magical Ballet Black. They did 4 works, the first three being more towards contemporary dance than classical ballet, with very modern, inspiring music. The last piece was less impressive, being much more conventional and set to music by Beethoven. I like Beethoven, but this piece didn't really light any fires for me. This was a surprise, as I'm usually very impressed by dance choreographed by Richard Alston. They don't seem to have their own website, so this is just one of several that comment on them.

As is so often the case, there's not much clue in the title of what the piece might be about, so I just sit back and see what occurs to me. I gave the programme a cursory glance from time to time, but other than that, largely ignored it. So it was something of a surprise to notice, while watching the third piece, that fragments of the music were familiar. Very familiar, actually, and from a surprising source. I would never have expected anyone to choreograph dance to a variation on Led Zepplin's Stairway to Heaven by Rodrigo y Gabriela! Absolutely brilliant!

And now I have to bring my website up to date as I've had a very nice email from a teacher and sculptor, making complimentary remarks about my art.

Monday, 14 April 2008

After weeks of having very little time, this afternoon I finally have a bit to myself and can post something on the blog, and hopefully, get around and visit a few friends.

Thursday was Lorna's birthday, so they'd booked a table for the whole gang at Teri-Aki, a Japanese restaurant with a good reputation in Cambridge. This was of course, because they were not long back from Japan themselves, and wanted to introduce us to some of the culture.

Sadly, Jane had been taken ill in St Alban's, and was really rather poorly all week, so she cried off, and Julia was sent home ill from work on Thursday afternoon, and the party shrank to 4. Even so, we had a very good time, sampling lots of excellent food, much of it quite different from other oriental 'brands'. The only thing we didn't like much was the noise level. Many modern restaurants have polished floors and lots of hard surfaces all around, and the net effect was that we could hardly hear ourselves shout at each other much of the time. Even so, a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

It being Lorna's birthday, we'd put our minds to a present for her, and Jenny and I made a choker between us. I cut a square of silver sheet into which I cut a pierced design based on a Japanese Shinto torii shrine. Actually, based on this postcard they sent us from Japan!

We gave it a couple of large rings on the top edge and threaded a purple silk ribbon through it, which looks rather good. Sadly, I didn't have the wit to take a photograph, so you'll just have to imagine it. Sorry.

On Saturday we finally got out into the garden in between showers, and the raised vegetable beds are now covered with fleece and warming up ready for planting in a week or so. I've planted dwarf and runner bean seeds, but still have lots of other stuff to do.

Yesterday we had the first rehearsal for a Watties trip to Venice in May. The Watties are a choir that forms about once a year to do a weekend trip abroad. We've been doing this for quite a few years now, and have done several French towns, like Rouen, Caen, Arras, Reims, as well as Bruges a couple of times. This year it's Venice, where I think we'll be singing in 3 masses, one in St Marks. Jenny and I have sung 2/3 of the programme before, but the rest is new and some is quite hard. Made doubly so by the fact that we can only make one other of the remaining 3 rehearsals. I shall have to do some note bashing at home between now and then if I'm to hold my end up.

Then last night we went to a wonderful performance of Montiverdi's Vespers by the Cambridge Taverner choir in Trinity College chapel. Jane was well enough to come, and we had dinner in Pizza Express afterwards. Jane was still off the alcohol, poor thing, so kindly volunteered to drive us home, allowing me to guzzle the red without restraint. It was only as we approached Royston that we realised this still entailed me driving from her house to ours, but fortunately we'd actually only had 3 glasses each, with food, so I was almost certainly OK.

Something else that came up over the weekend was an opportunity to get rid of some goldfish. We have 2 ponds, and the goldfish are quite .. er .. fecund, so we look out for the chance to give the buggers away. Someone posted a request recently on Freecycle, after fish to replace those which had been cleaned out of his pond by a heron. I caught a few big ones using a fish trap over the weekend, then this evening had another go, trying to catch little ones. I threaded a clear poly bag onto a wire ring, punched a load of holes in it with a hole punch, then tied that onto a bamboo pole. I think I caught a dozen before he arrived to collect them! So to celebrate, I took a couple of snaps of some rain-sodden tulips in the sunshine.

Monday, 7 April 2008

Saint Alban's Abbey

Well if you're going to sing in wonderful churches, you might as well brag about it, I reckon! We sang 3 services over the weekend in St Alban's Abbey - Evensong on Saturday (Prince Responses, Stanford Mag & Nunc in B flat, SS Wesley Blessed be the God and Father), Choral Eucharist on Sunday Morning (Jackson Mass in G, This Joyful Eastertide arr. Ledger) and Evensong Sunday afternoon (Leighton Responses, Rawsthorne Mag & Nunc in D, Easter hymn of Praise by Shepherd) and it really did go rather well, with quite a few very complimentary remarks. The Wesley is so completely Victorian and over the top, worthy of Gilbert & Sullivan at their best, that we actually enjoy singing it. When you first sing it through you really just want to throw up, but now we just treat it as a bit of a laugh.

It was very strange to sing there though. The Quire is swathed in scaffolding and everything is covered with dust as a result of the organ work going on, so we actually sat in the crossing and David had to play an electronic organ. It took him until Sunday afternoon to work out how to get the best from it, but wound fully up it was pretty good. But the accoustic was the strange thing. I could hear the organ perfectly well, but when I opened my mouth it felt as though I was singing outdoors, and my voice just disappeared up to the roof. Most other people could hardly hear the organ, but found the singing very rewarding. How odd that people only a few feet away perceived such a different effect.

Saturday evening we fed Lorna and Richard who were just back from 2 weeks in Japan, where they'd had the most fabulous time. They went with some long-time friends who's son has been in Tokyo for a few years and who was able to be a personal guide for them, which is just the perfect way to first visit a foreign country.

We gave them scallops to start with, seared in butter with capers and served on slices of avocado, then my smoked fish pie as boasted about the other week, followed by a Jamie Oliver layered instant rhubarb fool. It was all pretty good, especially the scallops, but L&R faded quickly and went home early. No great surprise there, given the time zone they were still living in.

Evensong yesterday was at 6.30 so we didn't get home until well gone 8, but we'd anticipated this, and Jenny had made an Andalucian oxtail stew on Saturday morning, which she'd left on a timer to be ready at 8.30. It was simply delicious, but before tucking in we awarded ourselves a glass of very good Puilly Fuissé whilst soaking in a deep, hot bath with the lights turned low and a couple of oil lamps burning. Trés decadent!

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

A small pause for thought

This is not a desperately emotional moment, but it is one of those occasions when you tend to rock back on your heels and reflect for a while. I'm not looking for sympathy, just letting you know what's going on.

My father and stepmother moved to southern Spain about 20 years ago, and we've visited them many times. He died about 5 years ago after a long period of increasing disability, but obviously, we continued to visit my stepmum. She was never really our sort of person, but we've known her for 30 years, so you get that sort of family relationship in which you might not like someone that much, but you care for them nonetheless, and we certainly did care for her, for all she might drive us mad! Anyway, she became increasingly frail over the past few years, and has fallen several times, which is bad news in an apartment with marble floors.

About 3 weeks ago, she fell once more, this time banging her head hard on the floor. She was taken into a local hospital, where she gradually deteriorated. I spoke to her early on, and she sounded OK, but later, when I phoned, she didn't pick up the phone. The hospital put me through, but she didn't answer. I assumed all was well, thinking that if it wasn't they'd say something.

Today I had a call from her niece, who went out there at the end of last week. Liz had taken a turn for the worse yesterday afternoon, and died around 3pm. It turned out she'd fractured her skull when she fell, though the hospital didn't actually tell anyone that. The only good news about this is that the niece had moved her into a really nice care home on Friday, and had had a good, lucid conversation with her on Saturday.

I suppose the only other good thing is that she was reasonably OK until about 3 weeks ago and probably didn't know too much about what was going on much of the time before she died.

And she had arranged her own funeral, and asked that her ashes be scattered where she'd scattered my father's ashes when he died. I remember she used to go down there and sit and talk to him. Atheist though I am, I can relate to that.