I’ve been a bit of a miserable bugger of late. With some justification maybe: not just at the loss of my Autumn Marathon but more at the nature of it, which I still haven’t come to terms with. But, you can’t go through life with that kind of head on, and at some point you have to sort yourself out. We’re a resilient lot, us marathoners.
So, here’s something more positive to be going on with.
Sing when you’re Proming, you only sing when you’re Proming…
I had what felt like a huge privilege two weeks ago when I went to a Prom, yes a real Prom – in the Albert Hall and everything! I should say right at the outset that you don’t have to be privileged to go: in fact our tickets were just £5:00 – that’s right, just five English Pounds. You simply have to be prepared to queue for a couple of hours and there are a number of standby day-tickets to be had. These get you into the Albert Hall, standing on the floor of the auditorium, and on the initiative of my son who did it last year, we went off to see the BBC Concert Orchestra play some music from the movies, from The Battle of Britain, Ice Cold in Alex and the Warsaw Concerto through 2001 A Space Oddysey right up to Star Wars, the latest Star Trek (a world premiere performance no less!) and for an encore, Superman. It was just enchanting.
The BBC Concert Orchestra. In the Albert Hall. For a fiver!
From my limited knowledge, Sir Henry Wood’s idea for the Proms was to expand the audience for classical music to ordinary people. Well, he must be sitting up there, surrounded by an angelic choir and the sound of harp music I expect, with a bit of a smile on his face.
I was like a wide-eyed kid. I have watched the Last Night of the Proms many times on TV, with a mixture of entertainment and amusement, and to actually be at a Prom for real was wonderful.
And to stand on the floor, so close to the orchestra, made it extra-special for me; better – more real somehow- than being up in a soft formal seat.
So you can watch the action in the Albert Hall for a fiver, stood up, and you could even bring a beer onto the floor if you wanted. Which is more than you can say for football.
So I found myself pondering on a few things which reminded me of going to a football match.
- The queue was very civilised (in fact they give you cloakroom tickets so you can wander off for the toilet or refreshments). And just like football, people come along the line handing things out: except instead of The Square Ball it’s a flyer for a concert or new classical music website.
- Inside the hall, there are different tiers and sections of seating, stratified according to cost and status. Like the West Stand and the Kop (except here I was on the pitch!) And within the crowd there are the Season Ticket holders, the occasional visitors, and the first-timers dazzled by it all and clutching their souvenirs from the gift shop.
- In a break I turned to my daughter to comment that a few of the musicians had gone to stand at the side of the stage (as if they were having a fag-break): when I turned back just a moment later – silently and from nowhere – a bloody great grand piano had been wheeled onto the front of the stage. As one of the shifters raised the lid there was a polite shout of “Heave Ho!” from half of the crowd (sorry, audience) follwed by a wave of laughter: “that’s an old Albert Hall joke” explained a season-ticket holder next to me. The parallel, I thought, of a football crowd shouting “Ooooooooo-hhh….. YOU S*** B******* Aahhhhh!!” when a ‘keeper takes a goal-kick. Sort of.
- When the piano was fully set up, the Leader of the orchestra, first violin, stepped forward to tap out a middle-C for the team…. then hesitated at the anticipation of the crowd waiting, but with a smile and a nod gave up that one single note, to be greeted with an ironic roar of raucous cheering and applause. A bit like when the kop clap respectfully and sportingly as the opposition goalkeeper trots towards the net for the second half, but once he acknowledges the applause, to be greeted with a jeered “F*** Off!”
- At half-time – pardon me, “The Interval” – a bloke in a waistcoat entertained the crowd from the floor with a brief selection of operatic numbers. A bit like the fat guy plucked from the kop for the halftime penalty-shootout-of-embarrassment.
- And then there are the players, oh my goodness! OK, the BBC Concert Orchestra don’t spit as much, I’ll grant you that (though the woodwind do drip a little). But the soloists and conductor really do ham it up a lot! All that mhaw!-mwah! and exaggerated lovey-dovey pretend hugging and kissing, when really they are probably thinking “Ha! You really screwed up that 3rd movement!” And then there is the over-mimed fake-humble hand-on-heart “Oh no you are TOO kind, really!” pass-me-a-sincerity-pill pantomime bowing and acknowledgement of the applause. It’s every bit as Oscar-worthy as a badge-kissing footballer, or player who rolls over twelve times after a clumsy tackle.
I gather, too, that on the Last Night of the Proms, there is also a spot of flag-waving and singalong; including, this year, You’ll Never Walk Alone. So maybe I’m right and the two forms of entertainment/culture are not so far apart after all.
And while I am on a cultural roll….
I don’t know much about Art but I know what I like.
Last weekend we went to the Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield. If you are in West Yorkshire: go, just go. And if not, then it’s still worth a trip. Along with the core Barbara Hepworth exhibit, this time there were some sculptures by an artist called Haroon Mirza who used neon lights and large objects cleverly reflecting the shapes of the gallery spaces. Some of the pieces used items Mirza had found elsewhere in the gallery, and one of the boards explained that this is known as “Found Art”. Apparently there is an extension of this concept called “Reverse Found Art”, whereby you might take a Rembrandt and use it as an ironing board. My teenage daughter helpfully abbreviated it to “F-Art” (that’s my girl!).
I rather liked Mirza’s exhibits; wife and daughter were less impressed, and that kicked off quite a discussion between us in the Hepworth’s excellent cafe.
But that’s art isn’t it? It may move you or it may not; you may love it or loathe it or laugh or cry at it; the thing is, you have a reaction to it, and even (apologies if I am becoming a bit pseudy myself here) the absence of any reaction at all is in itself a reaction, especially if others are animated by something which only elicits a bored shrug in you. You may be moved by something; or you may not. That, to me, is what Art does.
All of this reminded us of something else that happened during our Prom weekend. We were on the bus from my son’s new flat heading into Euston, where York Way crosses Camden Road.
“Wow!!” “What the…?!” “Did you see that!?”
said both wife and daughter in an instant. No, I hadn’t, I was looking the other way.
At the side of the road, someone had piled some boxes, rubbish maybe… or perhaps it was deliberate? In a Bansky, Gorillaz stylee someone had stencil-sprayed a figure on the
boxes, with the arms waving out on the wall behind. In the evening dusk a girl had stopped to take a photo. Her flash went off. At exactly the moment our bus went past, throwing the whole display – girl, flash, boxes, arms, graffiti – in a bright 3-dimensional dramatic frieze. Just for an instant; just THAT precise instant.
“Wow!!” “What the…?!” “Did you see that!?” They both did. Even though I didn’t, it still existed and was obviously very dramatic. Just in that instant, and they both saw it, then the bus was past; moreover, the girl taking the photo was probably completely unaware of what they saw, that she had created and was also part of what they saw. Just for one instant, then it was gone, forever.
Now that (and I didn’t even see it) really moves me somehow, the serendipity and temporary nature of that moment, so real and so gone. No doubt someone studying at a university somewhere would be able to give that a clever name. I would call it Art.
Well, thanks for reading this far. And I didn’t even go on about running. Its nice to be back.
Normal service will be resumed very soon though, as I finally sort out my confusion and procrastination on what to do about my Autumn (non) Marathon charity sponsorship. One long Sunday run and I’ll have it all sorted, I reckon…
By the way, Robin Hood HALF Marathon is two weeks today. I’ll be there.