1215: Foundation Of Liberty, 7 Wonders: Duel, Against The Pull Of Silence, Cinema Paradiso, Detectorists, Flyht, Gerald Finzi, Mackenzie Crook, Mark Uglow, Nick Gale, Patchwork, Sibelius, Simon Over, Steve Coogan, Stonehenge, Sweet Was the Song, Te Deum Laudamus, Uwe Rosenberg
I am sitting at the kitchen table, taking on caffeine and Vitamin C, naughty and nice, while behind my back I hear the sound of my next door neighbour getting in their car, presumably to go to work. It hardly seems like a break at all for some people, and the drive to and from London yesterday was one of the busiest I have known in terms of traffic, even if experience has taught me to leave more than enough time for the journey. On the way back a baby deer stood by the side of the road as I drove past Cranmore, the first I have seen on my commutes, while on the way to the capital I chuckled at seeing one of the fields near Stonehenge filled what what are apparently called metal detectorists.
I know that they are detectorists because of the BBC TV series, which I thought an outstanding piece of work. Written and directed by Mackenzie Crook who is that annoying combination of being both highly successful and younger than me, it is billed as a comedy, but is short on out and out laughs. Even so, it is uplifting, the characters, all odd in some kind of way, as are we all, beautifully drawn and, you suspect, with complex and interesting lives and interests offscreen that you never see. So much in the series remains unsaid, and there are some very touching moments indeed, as well as some devilish and very, very subtle humour. I laughed out loud, for example, when we finally found out the real names of the two characters who are known as Simon and Garfunkel, but the joke would be lost on anybody under the age of forty – my other half was totally baffled at my merriment.
The real star of Detectorists, though, is the English countryside, and each episode begins with some truly beautiful photography, often a distant shot with the two main characters, Lance and Andy, somewhere in the frame. It is done with care and real attention to detail, and you feel that nothing has been left to chance – as Steve Coogan apparently said, there is nothing funny about making comedy. The range of supporting characters, too, is sheer delight, from the nutty farmer in Series One, to Sheila, always detached from reality yet clearly adored and protected by her husband, and who, in one of the most touching scenes of the show, might just have a deep sorrow in her past which is only hinted at.
The Christmas special, on iPlayer, was the only episode that I felt let the side down a little, feeling just a bit added on at the last moment, and lacking the overarching narratives of the two series, but, that apart, this was outstanding from start to finish, and it rightly won the BAFTA for Best Situation Comedy in 2015. If you fancy something beautifully observed, touching, gentle and funny but without punchlines, then this might well be for you, but do go from the start and get to know the characters.
I have been catching up on various other bits of watching over the break which, for me, is more extended than that of my neighbour, but it is clear that some things remain with me longer than others. What I had thought was a strong, eloquent and wistful theme in a new song setting for soprano and piano in fact turned out to be the theme from Cinema Paradiso, but with two notes ever so slightly altered. No wonder it sounded eloquent and wistful! Back to the drawing board with that one, but it is not the first time it has happened, and it is curious how these things can plant themselves in your mind without your knowing. I once transcribed an entire phrase from a work by Gerald Finzi in one of my compositions, rhythm and melody, despite not having heard it for nearly twelve years, so these associations run deep and are often hidden. Deep in the middle of Flyht, which I wrote for Exeter College, is an accidental quotation from Sibelius’ 5th Symphony – only after I had been humming it to myself for a while did my other half point out what it was, at which point I realised that what I had associated with the idea of flight was from a work that came to Sibelius as he watched migratory birds overhead. When I point out thematic similarities in works to my students they sometimes ask whether these happen by coincidence or design, and, as a composer of (now) much experience, I can confidently say that the answer is “I don’t know”. Sorry about that.
Gaming, too, has been done over the past two days, especially of the two offerings left under the tree by the large man in the red and white suit. I knew it was wise to buy a place with a proper chimney. We are both enjoying 7 Wonders: Duel, which is a redesign of the card-drafting game 7 Wonders, which is very highly regarded but a little awkward in 2, but the current star of the show is probably Patchwork, by Uwe Rosenberg, who has designed some of the heaviest hitters in the hobby. This, however, can be learned in two minutes and played in 30, and is a real gem, as you strive to put together the best patchwork quilt while denying your opponent the opportunity to do the same. Fancy something interesting to play with your other half? If so, this is certainly worth looking at.
I am planning for this blog to be more economical in the new year, in terms both of the demands it makes on my readers and on my time. Therefore, I will probably be posting longer posts, but only once a week, most likely starting from today. What that means is that this is going to be the last post of 2016, unless I imbibe enough fizz to post something cheery and misspelled on the 31st. I had planned to write a review of the year, but the posts are all still up there for anybody to read, and, based on my assumption of the internet, will be there ad infinitum, probably stored on some cloud or other and flung out into space as the human race finally destroys the planet and breathes its last. Heaven only knows what another civilisation would make of a our internet content.
But back to now. Professionally this has been a great year, from the performance of against the pull of silence in Rieti to Sweet Was The Song at Mary Abbots, January to December, and all the pieces in between, including (a bit of) 1215: Foundation Of Liberty and the Te Deum Laudamus. Thank you, thank you, thank you to everybody who has commissioned, performed, forwarded, championed, liked, loathed, recommended or mentioned my music, and especially to you, my readers, who are along for the ride. Mentioning anybody would entail leaving other people out, but I do need to record special thanks to Simon Over and Mark Uglow. I’ll be finishing two new pieces early in 2016, and there are already some performances being lined up, and my Twitter feed (linked at the top of this page) is the best place to go for the very latest announcements. Don’t worry, I cannot stand Twitter either, but needs must.
However, I cannot let 2015 go without mentioning once more my dear friend Nick Gale who died in March. It goes without saying, of course, that I miss him terribly, and many is the time that I have thought of him during those long drives to and from London, many also the time I have started a blog post detailing my thoughts and feelings and then deleted it. Grief, so beautifully hinted at on occasion in Detectorists, is one of those things we experience together for a while, at funerals, for example, and then it all goes quiet and we retreat into our little worlds, deal with it privately, and, eventually, we just do not mention it to other people. In October this year I found myself, quite by accident, in Hyde Park. There is a tree there, planted to commemorate a friend of mine who died back in 1999, so I went hunting for it but, to my distress, was unable to remember exactly where it was. In my defence, I had not been back for probably fifteen years, seeking emotional distance, I would think, but distressing it was, none the less. Only later did I realise that the next day was the anniversary of my friend’s death, and the coincidence of events – work nearby, time to spend, late autumn sunshine, green space – took me by surprise, even though it was just coincidence.
In the last hours of every year I always toast absent friends, and, secretly, I wrap up the hope that those I love will get through the next year intact, healthy and prosperous. Clearly that toast might prove a little more emotional this year, but, as far as other wishes go, success, happiness and prosperity for myself come quite a long way down the list, probably because I can get on with working on those by myself. So, to conclude, I’ll take this early opportunity to wish each and every one of you a very happy and prosperous 2016, and to thank you once more for reading. Until we meet again.