Saturday, 25 May 2013

Wagner at the Staithe

Most days after work – I use the term advisedly – I head for the Staithe. Everyday is different, people, boats, birds, skies. As the weeks go by and the days grow longer if not warmer, time constraints on my leisurely strolls have more or less disappeared and its now just as easy to go for a wander after dinner or the pub as it is before. In fact it's better; the light is usually more interesting and certainly by the time you get out to the sea there's rarely anyone else about.  To stand above the beach with just the sea and the sky, knowing in all probability there isn't anyone within a mile of you in any direction is a very good feeling.

Having said that, there have been a couple of occasions this week when it was unlikely I was going to meet anyone even at the Staithe. The spring tide had already covered the hard and, with the encouragement of a stiff northerly breeze, was eyeing up the road. It being 200 years since Wagner was born, the gods of the weather had clearly decided to serve up something special to mark the occasion. Dark clouds at sea beyond the island hinted at what was to come.

Setting out along the bank, it got darker and colder and the wind got up. However, this little appetizer was not coming my way and looking back from the sluice it had clearly decided to head towards Overy Town. 
Onwards to the  beach and proof, if proof were needed, of the power of the wind. Not for the first time, the way to the beach was blocked by a moving and visibly growing sand dune while out to sea, early signs of the next course heading in.

Back along the bank, pausing to watch a Little Egret (I think), the main course arrived at the corner about the same time as me.  From a glassy calm on the water to rushing wind in minutes. Known to some as Machine Gun Corner the next 10 minutes placed a new interpretation on the origins of this title with wind driven hail doing its best to strip not only the tender growth of the young Alexanders (these are the local wild form of celery known to the Romans) but also some of my more exposed parts.  I'm not complaining - it's good to be reminded just what really matters and who's in charge of things.  And just to confirm matters, a couple of flashes of lightning. A friend of the family, now sadly no longer with us, used to walk regularly on Dartmoor and I recollect he remained utterly unconvinced of the claims of modern 'technical' waterproof clothing. I imagine they were based on long experience of such weather.

On the Norfolk coast, squalls often pass quickly. This it seemed was not such a squall. Crunching along the bank over lying hail, the now exposed hard and anybody foolish enough to walk across it was being given a thorough working over. Back in Burnham, the roads were white over with small drifts pleasingly arranged against the front of the gallery. Early the following morning the hail was still in evidence on roofs in the village. Pleased to say that the numerous fledglings lurking amongst the pots on the patio all seem to have survived the onslaught. A bit damp, a few ruffled feathers but otherwise business as usual. That's nature for you.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Words and Music

In just 3 days last weekend I enjoyed great poetry and sublime music. Friday saw the opening of Poetry-next-the-Sea, that fantastic feast of poets and poetry at Wells-next-the-Sea. Organised pretty well single handed by Burnham Market's remarkable patron, Fiona Fraser, the star of the show was undoubtedly the late lamented George Barker. Kicking off with an extraordinary and very moving archive video of the great man reading some of his work towards the end of his life - accompanied by booze and fags lit from a candle -  it was followed by readings of his work from Oliver (brother of Jeffrey) Bernard. Now in his late 80's, Bernard's performance, for this is what it was, was a tour de force and a fitting tribute to possibly Norfolk's greatest poet. Barker's rehabilitation was confirmed by tributes and readings from his daughter - and now author - Raffaella Barker followed by a powerful tribute to her late husband from Elspeth Barker.  A stunning evening and, I would have thought, a very hard act to follow. I shall certainly be looking out for next year's festival.

Just two days later, courtesy of my former business partner, I headed east to Ludham, St. Catherine's Church to be precise, for an evening of sublime music from the Academy of St.Martin the Fields. A programme of Elgar, Britten, Arvo Pårt and a new commission by Sally Beamish combined to make the trip on a dark and damp evening more than worthwhile. Elgar's Introduction and Allegro never fails to please and excite, whilst the Sarabande in Britten's Simple Symphony came as an unexpectedly moving high point. Pårt's - to me unknown - Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten proved mesmeric in the darkening Church. More Britten in the shape of his Variations on a Theme by Frank Bridge provided further proof of the quality of the performance and that we don't need to go to London to hear the best.