Monday, 5 November 2012

Cough Splutter Groan

Hi everyone. I've got man-flu: it's like the 'flu that women get only much, much more subjective painful. The nadir was lying awake last night, alternately coughing and trying not to vomit with each heave, tears streaming down my ravaged face as folk memories of the 1918 epidemic raced through my frazzled brain.

However, there's no time for illness. Saturday night saw me being cultured and ill, trying not to cough all the way through Sibelius, Grieg's Piano Concerto (played by Leonskaja) and Rachmaninov's tricky First Symphony. The Sibelius Karelia Suite and Grieg are very familiar - even if you're not a classical music fan you'll have heard them:

In my case, the opening of the Grieg was accompanied delightfully by the 5-something couple behind me. Arriving late, they proceeded to argue in a passive-aggressive fashion about whose fault that was, before the know-all man explained to his paramour that he'd 'researched' the music on Youtube, before holding forth with all the expertise I can deploy on subjects such as string theory.

A few death-stares later, they subsided into dumb, ox-like passivity, before delighting us at the start of the Rachmaninov with a brief resumé of their love lives. She had endured a long, unhappy marriage primarily contracted for tax reasons. Her friend's considered view of this was that the husband's Jewishness was the root cause of the nuptial failure. He then confessed that he'd been honest with himself during a dark night of the soul and come to the realisation that he was too selfish for marriage. Based on how he behaved in a concert hall, I'd have to say he was right in this regard, though not in any of the things he had to say about the music.

After the familiar pleasures of the Sibelius and Grieg, the Rachmaninov was a fascinating triumph. Its first performance was a disaster: the conductor was drunk, the orchestra useless and the reviewers merciless. Rachmaninov abandoned composing for several years until therapy fixed him up, going on to ever greater heights. He withdrew the First Symphony from shame, only quoting it subtly in one of his final pieces. It only reappeared when the orchestral parts were found in the ruins of Leningrad and has gradually become admired. It's long, loud, tricky, passionate and unhappy: really easy to see how a conductor or orchestra could wreck it. But it's brilliant.

After that triumph, I went home and spent the night coughing like a miner, then went to the Shropshire Closed fencing competition the next day, like an idiot. On looking at the entry, I predicted 3rd place, and lo! it came to pass. Luck got me top seeding after the first poule, plus a badly pulled thigh muscle. Luck again got me past my friend John Paul: despite being massively better than me, he gets stressed, he had a broken toe, and had to fight a very annoying child to get through to fight me. 15-4 to me, plus fingers dripping with blood after JP smashed his guard into them. Then - damn it - I meet my friend Alec in the semi-final, purely through the luck of the draw. I'd hoped to lose to him in the final, but no. Despite being only just out of bed after his 18th birthday party, his ridiculous speed and array of clever moods sorted me out good and proper. Odd really: he's an epeeist and I'm a foilist, but he usually beats me at foil and I usually beat him at epee.

And so home - bloody, bruised and limping, but clutching a bronze medal. And another night of consumptive coughing. At least the World Service was there to get me through the night. As for this week: all my usual lectures plus two extra 3-hour ones as favours to colleagues, and the American election to stay up for too…

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