Thursday 28 February 2008

The strange case of the invisible jujube

I’m as out of touch with my weight as I am with the thought processes of the young or religious; I reckon I got through about nine units of alcohol with lunch yesterday (though at least I stuck to fizzy water in the evening); there are theoretically 1,436 days left in which to pull things together and turn them around; and even I’ve forgotten what the sea areas thing was all about.

Another day, another lunch at The Ivy. I hope my bank manager doesn’t read this. He’ll find out eventually, of course, but I don’t like to think of him fretting in anticipation. In my defence, I did go to Pizza Express instead last Friday, but found it wasn’t anything like as nice.

Today I lunched with an ex-girlfriend of some seven years ago, whose main preoccupation these days is caring for her five-year-old son. (Somehow that gap seems quite reassuring.) I’d forgotten what good fun she could be when not on maximum alert to prevent her loved one picking up the sort of casual obscenities that thoughtless Blokes like me tend to strew into our conversation. In fact, much though it goes against the whole spirit of this blog to admit it, I really enjoyed myself. Afterwards we strolled around to the National Gallery and took a look at the Pompeo Batoni exhibition. The heroic portraits of British aristocrats in Rome on the Grand Tour didn’t do a lot for me, perhaps because I’ve met enough of their descendants to be able to imagine how ghastly the subjects of the pictures must have been. On the other hand, I was very much taken with “Time Orders Old Age to Destroy Beauty” and looked forward to buying several dozen postcards of it to send to my ageing friends. Typically, it was not available. Equally typically, my favourite picture in the whole paid-for exhibition proved to belong to the National Gallery anyway, so under normal circumstances it should have been possible to view it free of charge. I consoled myself with the thought that it had probably been tucked away in a vault for decades.

After an afternoon meeting in a Pall Mall club, whose rude members at least made me feel a lot more positive about my own club along the street, I wandered around to the Coliseum for Lucia di Lammermoor. I greatly enjoyed the moment when the doorkeeper practically rugby tackled a tall man for trying to sneak past her without a ticket, for it was the distinctive Paul Daniel, music director of English National Opera for eight years to 2005. In the circumstances, I thought his response of “I am conducting the show” was remarkably mild. I would never have got through that sentence without chucking in at least two expletives and the word “moron”. No wonder responsible mothers are so reluctant to let me loose in the presence of their five-year-olds.

It’s only the second time I have had the opportunity to see Lucia in more than 25 years of reasonably dedicated opera-going in the UK. On past form, this probably means that at least two other companies currently have new productions of it in the pipeline. Since I freely admit to knowing nothing about music (though I know what I like, in a Monty Python Yorkshire businessman sort of way), I probably should not pontificate about it. However, although Donizetti’s rum-ti-tum approach always seems to me to mesh more happily with comedy than tragedy, it is a cracking show. Both the principals have simply terrific voices. Anna Christy in the title role looks about 12, and the whole thing became a much more convincing case study on child abuse than last week’s Madam Butterfly, though I see from the programme that Walter Scott’s Lucia was supposed to be 17 to Cio-Cio-San’s 15. She is driven mad by an arranged marriage (ooh, little bit topical) to Arturo, who did look a bit of an effete blond poofter, but also struck me as being rather more appealing than the bearded, hairy Scotchman with whom she was besotted. There was a nasty moment when the latter burst into the wedding and was tumbled to the ground, leading my guest and I both to shield our eyes in case we were about to solve the mystery of what he wore under his kilt.

The celebrated mad scene in the second act was a cracker, involving gallons of prop blood and Ms Christy’s beautiful singing to the eerie sound of a glass harmonica. I also had the benefit of a further accompaniment from the nonagenarian cadaver next to me, which has been sitting quietly awaiting the arrival of its zip-up body bag throughout the first act, but now sprang into a sort of apology for life. At any rate, its ancient jaw started working up and down. With the mouth held open, this produced the sort of noise I’d expect to hear in the unlikely event that I ever chose to negotiate a particularly sticky swamp on the back of a camel with unusually large and flat feet. I tried to keep half an eye on him to see what on earth he was chewing, expecting him to extricate from his waistcoat pocket a type of fluff-covered jujube that had not been manufactured since the reign of King George V. But there was never any sign of input, so I concluded that he was either the world’s oldest devotee of chewing gum or simply exercising his dental plate. I shall now add him to my ongoing study on “Euthanasia: For and Against”. But which column to put him in? I’ll toss a coin. Heads for For, tails Against. Damn, heads. I should have known: “Tails, tails, never fails”. Oh well, best of three, then. Luckily I’ve got all day.

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