The first Austral concert

Well, well, well. Long time, no update. The last couple of months have been rather hectic for me. The last weeks doubly so.

On Saturday night (21st) I conducted my first concert in London. Not a hugely important event for most people in London, but a rather big deal for me, as you can imagine. It was at a church called St Paul’s in Covent Garden, so technically it was my Covent Garden debut and I have performed at St Paul’s.

It went quite well. We all started and finished together anyway, which is how I always judge a good concert. Every venue has its own little problems and unique qualities, which usually make themselves known in the quiet bits. St James’s has its clock and the occasional police car screaming down Piccadilly. For some reason when booking St Paul’s I had neglected to note the obviously close proximity of the Covent Garden buskers, a favourite position of the street performers being on the other side of the church’s east wall. It could have been worse: we could have had one of those Chinese guys who play those things with one string (invariably through a powerful amplifier, complete with backing track). As it was it must have been a juggler or something as I only noticed a small burst of laughter in a soft passage of the Mozart. At least I think it was coming from outside…

Financially, the whole project was slightly less rewarding. The final figure was about £700 in the red. When my teacher asks me what I learnt from the exercise – as he surely will – I will stress the importance of advertising.

Anyway, if the concert has served its main purpose it will hopefully slow down the passage of my CVs to potential employers’ waste baskets.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank my friend and HMV collegue Graham for doing such a sterling job collecting Sterling at the door. And lugging a mic stand into central London. Cheers

Like the last two years the visit of my parents has come and gone with surprising swiftness. Salient memories are:

A magical evening at the Minack Theatre on the edge of the world in Cornwall. We sat on rugs and watched Alice in Wonderland as the setting sun cast shadows over the dead-calm sea, and the fins of basking sharks slowly drifted past.

A warm evening in the beautiful and interesting grounds of Blenheim Palace.

Suddenly catching a little boat out to St Michael’s Mount.

Fish and chips in the car at Penzance. Real pasties at Padstow.

More pub meals in a week than I have had in my whole life. And trying a new beer in every pub.

Asking directions in the surprisingly lovely town of Evesham. “EVE-sham!”

Showing my dad St Bartholemew the Great and the Temple Church.

I still haven’t been able to get my film processed (see financial report above) but photos will appear in due course. I do however have some photos of previous exploits to share. Check out update part II…

Part II

Glad you could join me again.

Before my parents arrived, Kath and I spent a week in Cornwall We also went to Paris for a few days. That’s one of the things I love about living here. You can literally go to Paris for lunch. On the train!

I have come to the conclusion that 1st class is the only way to travel. Thanks to a newspaper coupon we went 1st class Eurostar and it was great. In fact it was almost the best bit. We had our own little table for two. The seats were big. We had meals and alcohol included and we got newspapers and magazines to read. A few hours later we were in Paris.

Our first experience of the Metro was not good. After giving up on the self-service ticket machines we resigned ourselves to joining the huge queue waiting to be served by a bored looking woman smoking a cigarette. 30 minutes later we were second in the queue. At which point the station – the international, presumably constantly busy station – ran out of tickets. After a minor heart failure we discovered this actually meant we could get on the Metro free. So I guess that was ok.

After several wrong turns and backtracking we somehow found our way to the right platform in the maze of tunnels. We boarded a train that was far more crowed than the Piccadilly Line in rush hour and ejected ourselves from the carriage at our stop: Madeleine.

As we climbed out into daylight we were greeted by the magnificent sight of La Madeleine. This was the classical church where Faure was organist. Our hotel was superbly located just around the corner.

For the next couple of days we walked an awful lot.

We went to the Louvre. Luckily for us the attendants were on strike so we got in free. We briefly saw the Venus di Milo between the Japanese tourists getting their photo taken in front of it. I greatly enjoyed all the other classical masterpieces in the collection that didn’t have famous names and so were totally ignored by almost everyone.

We took a train to Versailles. I know this sounds rich coming from me as I’ve been there, but my advice to you is don’t. Don’t get me wrong, it is amazing. About a million times more impressive than Buckingham Palace. The trouble is it is a “must see” in all the guidebooks. Everywhere. In 200 languages. And the French cannot deal with crowds. They just have no idea. This is what happened. We arrived by train, along with about 200 other people. The train station is woefully inadequate for dealing with crowds and so people were jumping barriers to get out. A bad start, I thought. We walked the short distance to the Palace. Wow, I thought. Look at all those people. The queues were massive, curling back on themselves like some giant snake. We decided to skip the State Rooms and join the smaller queue for the Dauphin’s apartments. This proved a wise decision as we only queued for about 30 minutes and the number of people inside was quite acceptable. This bit was quite good. We also discovered that our ticket got us entry to the State Rooms and we could bypass the queue for tickets. Might as well, we thought…

We entered quickly through the special door and all seemed well until we actually got to the first room. There was no crowd control a all. The rooms (there are about 20 of them) had a small walkway roped off on one side. This was filled with a solid mass of slowly shuffling people. I couldn’t see anything except the roof. Kath couldn’t see anything except armpits.

It was crap.

We forced our way back with great difficulty and popped out into the sunlit courtyard, determined never to return.

Don’t go. Buy a book.

From then on we realized the problem the Parisians have with crowds. We went to the Eiffel Tower, but didn’t go up because of the queues. We decided to spend the rest of our time shopping and walking the streets.

Kathryn discovered Paris is great for shopping.

One thing that is definitely worth seeing in Paris is the Arc de Triomphe. Sure the Arc is vaguely interesting, but the traffic that goes on around it is simply amazing. I stood there for a while trying to figure out the rules and I couldn’t. There aren’t any. No lines, no signs, no rules. Just grab the wheel and step on it. Amazing.

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