Thursday, July 12, 2012

Expecting the Worst

In a couple of weeks we were supposed to be moving to Newcastle to spend a year there, but due to some bizarre and unexpected events at work, my fella has had to cancel his sabbatical, so we're staying put. He has been having a very odd couple of months. He had put in an application for a very large grant (several millions of pounds) and had got through to the last round, where 10 applicants battle it out in front of a panel for 5 places (a bit like X Factor but for professors).

So he went down to London, all prepared with his notes for his talk and his handouts. But an hour before he was due to go into the interview, his suitcase was stolen while he was in a coffee shop. It contained all his notes, an Ipad, his laptop and his clothes. The people in Cafe Nero could not have been less interested. London is apparently a nest of thieves at the moment, due to the Olympics. If it had been me, I probably would have just got the next train home and gone straight to bed, but he has something of the air of an old trooper about him, so he went to the interview and did it anyway.

Afterwards he was convinced it hadn't gone well, and spent a week being down in the dumps. But it turned out he got the grant after all.

He also took Grade 1 piano exam at the same time that I did Grade 3 - although recounted afterwards that it had gone "very badly". He'd decided to play the pieces off by heart, and made a mistake in the first one which he was unable to recover from. His mind went blank and his hands couldn't stop shaking. We worked out that if he was lucky, he might have got 101 out of 150 (you need 100 to pass).

We received emails from ABRSM last night that the results were out. These exams have no bearing on our careers, but all the same, I experienced a momentary feeling of anxiety when I clicked on the results. Thankfully, I got 121, which is a merit (just). We then looked at my fella's results, both of us expecting the worst. He got 120 (also a merit).

I think the moral of this is that I could save myself a lot of anxiety if I take every thing he says with a pinch of salt.

"It must be nice to have something that you're better than him at," said one of my friends last night.

"It won't last..." I replied. He is the sort of person who played Angry Birds for hours until he had 3 stars on every level.

Sunday, July 01, 2012


When my elderly and lively in-laws come round, they like nothing better than to sit on high-backed chairs, drinking endless cups of teas and recanting stories about a) holidays abroad that took place in the 1980s and b) arguments they have had and won. I am not expected to make any contribution towards these "conversations", other than to show mild interest or to act as a stand-in for the person who was argued with, so many years ago. Over the past 20 years I have heard some of these stories so many times that I almost feel as if I participated in those holidays, and I note any deviances from the usual narratives with interest. It all reminds me a bit of conquering Vikings, singing songs about their victories: "And then I told her... 'look love, so my money's not good enough for you is it? Well I'll take my service elsewhere!'"

Sometimes, for variety, when my warlike in-laws are exhausted, I will try to distract them with a comforting television programme. We all agree that the highest form of television entertainment is the 1970s musical "special", ideally featuring Sammy Davis Jr, although Perry Como, Doris Day or Nancy Sinatra will also suffice. My father-in-law is a notorious tease and will inevitably make sordid remarks about Doris Day, upsetting my mother-in-law who will then transpose the offence onto me. "Stop it! You're upsetting Paul!" (I am viewed by everyone as the upper-class, tasteful, nervous and delicate member of the family, who needs to be protected from vulgarity and the outside world at all costs).

A few months ago, we played the in-laws some episodes of Sounds of the Sixties, which makes up about 80% of BBC4's output. They were enjoying Tom Jones' ode to unjustified violence toward women - Delilah. Then this clip came on, and the mood changed.

My mother-in-law got increasingly angry during Julie Driscoll's performance of Wheel's on Fire. "This is miserable!" she proclaimed. "I don't like it!" Helpfully, BBC4 had provided some information about each performance, in the form of text across the screen. About half way through we were told that "Wheel's on Fire" was originally a Bob Dylan song.

"Bob Dylan!" exclaimed my mother-in-law in triumph. "I hate Bob Dylan. There! I KNEW something was wrong!"

I can't agree with her here though. I love this performance of Wheel's on Fire. And I wish Julie Driscoll was my friend. Here's another clip I've recently discovered of her, in full-on psychedlic freak-out mode.

It's worth watching, just for her hand dancing and facial expressions. And I love how it all seems to have been created by Blue Peter set designers on LSD.

Julie (now Julie Tippetts), I do wish all of your songs were on SingStar, because I would never stop singing them.