Opera, or cheese?

Or both, even.

I recently felt rather inadequate when reading about an online friend’s Easter holiday trip to the opera. She was taking her granddaughter, who is about seven. And she did so at the girl’s request, who after listening to so much opera at home during the last year or two, she really, really wanted to go to a live performance. And her favoured opera was one I’d never even heard of. The friend suspected it might be a difficult one to find, but not so.

Hence the recent trip to London for some real opera. It was one of these performances you get nowadays, where you get to meet the cast, and the girl’s day was made.

It made me wish I could have done that (although I treated Offspring at a young age to similar things, albeit plays, and not always in London). But of course I didn’t ever consider the opera, because it was, well, the opera. One ballet was enough for a posh night out.

So I tried to analyse how this young girl acquired her taste for opera. It’s because there was so much of it made available at her grandmother’s house, so it became both well known, and also very attractive.

And I realised that this could have happened to me too, had Mother-of-Witch played the right music when I was a child. But she didn’t really go in for music, and if the radio was on, it was more likely to be the more ‘boring’ talk radio programmes. My own listening came around the age of ten when I caught the pop bug.

Mother-of-Witch wasn’t not into culture. Just not opera, or endless sessions of other kinds of music.

But then I found myself going on – and not in a good way – about people who don’t appreciate good cheese. Or god forbid, people who sell cheese but know next to nothing about what is/makes a good cheese. I don’t mind paying for it, if it is good. I would prefer for tastings to be offered more freely at the cheese counter. After all, people think nothing of tasting wine before committing. But it’s as if cheese matters less, or not at all. And you don’t need very much of it.

Yes, you do. I have had to tie myself in knots at parties where a large group of people have been offered a rather small piece of token cheese. Sometimes a very good cheese, which makes the ‘sharing’ that much harder.

I was going to blame the lack of opera at home on a modest background. That is, until I remembered that Mother-of-Witch knew about cheese, and appreciated it. And so did her even more modest-background father before her. It’s clearly the case that whatever you’ve been subjected to over a period of time makes you knowledgeable and appreciative.

The Magic Flute; now that I know a bit of. Ingmar Bergman offered up his own take of it on television one year. That was very good.

Now, if I could only find a nearby – reliable – source of cheese to take me out of my misery.

Zemlor, and Måns

Our travel plans for March caused me to be wittier than ever. Or, at least, Daughter appreciated my wittiness more than I had dared to expect.

We wanted to return to Sweden, to see what a property-free existence might be like. We wanted to eat semlor – the Swedish Lent buns we love. And Daughter wanted to see Måns Zelmerlöw in concert. All three things serendipitously coincided mid-March and off to Gottenburg we flew. (Yeah, I know. It’s not spelled that way, but the airline didn’t know any better.)

We had two potential concert venues (close to what we know), and we chose Åhaga in Borås, which I’d heard so much about but never been to. Åhaga is an old steam engine repair shop, more recently made into a lunch restaurant and an events venue. School Friend first accompanied us to lunch on concert day, so we could case the joint. And a very nice joint it is, complete with indoors steam engine and outdoors waterfall. We were able to see the stage being set up for Måns.

After lunch we popped across the car park to buy some food, and more zemlor, at the ICA-Maxi supermarket. Daughter pointed behind me as we were nearly done. ‘It’s him!’ she whispered. And there was Måns, pulling his own midsize shopping basket, no doubt full of whatever makes a concert tour on a touring bus more bearable. We opted for discretion. Måns deserved to be allowed to shop alone. And had we pestered him, no doubt more people would have noticed.

With our haloes intact, we queued to pay just ahead of him, before going home to the airbnb and stashing our semlor in the fridge for some post-concert munching.

I was mostly along for the ride. Måns seems like a ‘nice young man’ and I don’t mind him. But on the other hand, he’s not really set me alight with his singing either.

But you know what? Seeing him live makes a difference. And from what others have said, including the reviewer from the local paper, it appears that his record company has not had his best interests in mind. Måns usually comes across as a very decent person, but a somewhat vanilla singer.

Yes, I know he won Eurovision in 2015. That sort of proves the point.

The concert was good, and I liked his singing. By the look of things, most people in the audience more than liked it, and that’s as it should be. The pared back style suited him. And it is almost criminal that there wasn’t a ‘CD’ to buy. By which I mean, some kind of new concert album with the new Måns. The second encore was Heroes, and I was sure nothing could follow it. But Måns sat down and sang something a lot less rousing to finish off, which was even better. That, and the a capella piece the group did earlier. The small ‘eight-year-old accountant’ he described his younger self as has come a long way. Let’s hope the record company knows what to do now.

‘Lov’ is the Swedish for school holidays. Semlor are the buns. And Måns Zelmerlöw is Måns Zelmerlöw. Together they make for a ‘zemlelov.’ (Did you know it’s possible to eat one every other day?)

(Photos shamelessly stolen from Helen Giles)

Happy 87th Birthday!

Thinking back to Köln twelve years ago, feeling grateful for having been able to travel to concerts, seeing and hearing Roger Whittaker live.

Today he’s 87, and here’s wishing him a huge birthday cake, if only to accommodate all those candles!


Should you really have to prove you are alive?

Actually, stupid question. I do this once a year to qualify for my pension.

But otherwise? There will probably always be magazines who like to write and print sensational untruths about famous people. I suspect German ones are no worse than many others, although sometimes they do come across as rather bad. I don’t read them.

The only good thing about them lying about Roger Whittaker is that they at least consider him famous enough that he is worthy of their attention. It seems he is ill and possibly not living in France and his children don’t visit. Or something like that.

So this week he provided his German fan club with a short video where he speaks, mentions where he is [France] and how sunny it is, before pointing to the man beside him, who is in fact Roger’s son Guy.

Nice to see them both. But it shouldn’t be necessary.

And as has been pointed out, Roger is 86. He’s allowed to ‘be old.’

Fourteen years

For some reason I have Sixteen Tons swirling round in my head. It feels like it’s paving the way for Culture to turn fourteen today. Years, not tons, but I am sort of rewriting the lyrics in my head. I doesn’t feel as if a year has passed since I last celebrated on here, but it must have. My time goes quickly, despite me not doing much.

Certainly not much in the way of culture. As I pointed out to Daughter the other day, I still have a few episodes of Bull left to watch. But I suppose if there’s to be no more, it’s as well to have some leftovers standing by.

And if you know me, you’ll be surprised to hear I’m not even hankering after cake all that much.

Now that it’s September, it won’t be long until the new seasons of whatever it is we watch are back on television. And between you and me, I don’t believe Parker drove off, not knowing he’s being set up in some way. We were only meant to worry over the summer. Oddly, I have been keener to watch Hawai’i than the Mother show NCIS.

Earlier in the year I was hoping I’d be going back into the cinema soon. Now I’m not so sure. I’ve even stopped taking notes of all the films I’d like to watch, because it just made me feel stressed. Have decided that at some point I’ll be able to watch stuff, whether in an actual cinema setting, or on the home screen.

When I set up CultureWitch there were three birthdays to mention on September 2nd. The Grandmother, but she died some years ago. Mark Harmon, who still has birthdays, but who is no longer on NCIS. And Culture herself; fourteen today.

Binge & Co

I’ve been waiting for me to say something about this season’s – which is nearly over – NCIS, et al. Maybe you have, too.

Somehow it’s been harder to watch. Not anything to do with quality; just that the spirit hasn’t been there. In me, I mean. Us. But in the last week I have discovered what was missing. Company, and a bit of bingeing. This is odd for someone who likes her peace and quiet, not to mention needs to save something for later and not watch it all now.

We watched NCIS Hawai’i together. The first episode, I mean. It was OK. I wasn’t majorly impressed, though, as it felt like your average US television show. After a long, long while, I watched episode two alone, as Daughter had stopped watching and the Resident IT Consultant clearly didn’t care for it. Decided not to watch any more.

The family watched the first couple of episodes of NCIS season 19. The mind boggles. 19! Wasn’t sure how they were going to get rid of Gibbs, but always assumed he’d get himself honourably killed, somehow. The Resident IT Consultant and I have watched on and off during the year. It’s been OK. Parker as ‘the new Gibbs’ is fine. He’s no Gibbs, but Parker is OK in his own right, and the switchover was done quite nicely, I thought. Keep expecting Christine Baranski to sweep through the door at some point, though.

And watching Bull has been down to me, all alone. When I have an evening with no company, I watch. It’s been an uneven ride, but on the whole it’s been good. Losing Benny was probably a sensible idea, although I don’t see how his rookie replacement can suddenly have not only become a lawyer, but to be quite so ‘experienced’. That’s fiction for you. They’ve gone down some darkish directions, but seem to find their way out of them again. At one point I expected the whole cast to be got rid of, one by one, Agatha Christie style. Loved the Christmas episode.

So, there we were, just before Easter, when I demanded company. So, while Daughter caught up with NCIS, I watched again. Season 19 came across as a lot tighter and better when watched in quick succession. And in company. Must do that again some day.

Daughter had watched all of Hawai’i on her own and liked it. Of course she did. So we are now watching it together at semi-binge speed. And you know what? I like it. It’s better for company.

In other words, we propped each other up. And bingeing isn’t so bad after all.

I now have Bull standing by, hoping for a quick traipse through season six, which I gather is going to be the last. That’s probably wise. Leave this party and find something new and fresh.

Old man NCIS will be back for its 20th year. Perhaps that’s a good round figure to end on? Because they are all getting older, and Parker is not that much younger than Gibbs. Too old, in other words. (As was the actress playing Victoria Palmer. What were you thinking?)

To hit or not to hit

I don’t follow the Oscars, nor did I watch the ceremony. I have seen that punch once. I had never heard of Chris Rock, and I doubt I would recognise him if I met him.

Whereas I don’t think people should go around hitting others, the more I think about what Will Smith did, I think he was right. At first I thought he should have used words, rather than a fist. But words could have been seen as scripted entertainment, and words could easily have gone unheard by some.

That punch, though, we saw that.

It’s not so much what Will Smith – an actor I neither particularly admire, or dislike – did for his wife, although it was far more admirable than much of what Hollywood stars get up to. It’s what he did for all of us, especially all the people belittled by comedians or just shouted at or laughed at in the street. We – they – have no comeback. We – they – scuttle away in shame, sometimes fear. Maybe our – their – day has been ruined (along with life in general). If it’s someone we love who is at the receiving end of this kind of thing, we stand powerless to deal with it.

Thank you Will.

Happy 86th, Roger!

We’ve come a long way since I thought Roger Whittaker was really old. That was in 1968, or thereabouts, and any man over twenty seemed ancient to a 12-year-old.

Now though, we are both quite, erm, well, young at heart.

Happy Birthday!!!

The Book of Dust – La Belle Sauvage

Just because you’re fat doesn’t mean you need to be the clown. I’m fat myself, and I understand about clowning around. I do appreciate when fat actors are cast. They are actors, after all. But in this National Theatre ‘mould’ of colour blindness, where black and white actors are cast ‘without thought’ as to the colour of their skin; why treat the [token] fat actor – the main actor – as though he needs to be a clown, when the character in the book is anything but?

Right, I shall get off that high horse for a bit now, because La Belle Sauvage, based on Philip Pullman’s novel, was quite a good play. After years in the wilderness of Scotland, followed by two years of lockdown, it was lovely to be in a London theatre again, even if it was for the filmed version of a National Theatre production, screened in our local theatre. Drama like that is different from film, and we must remember to do it again, now that the post-Covid reluctance of getting close to strangers is very slightly wearing off. (Next time we’ll pay for the seat next to us.)

Clowns, yeah. Philip’s book is not a funny book. Nor is it especially suited for children. Yet, there we were with Malcolm acting the idiot, and with children in the audience who presumably had not read La Belle Sauvage (nor had their parents), but perhaps had liked His Dark Materials. I see why the part of 12-year-old Malcolm had to be played by an adult. But this shy and intelligent and thoughtful boy has no business behaving like a junior James Cordern. Having started off like this, he can’t really go on to be the Malcolm from the next book, should they dramatise that as well.

The other parts mostly worked. And the sharing of roles within the fairly small cast worked fine. The actor playing Lord Asriel was perfect for the part. A pity the end had him act like an idiot. It was like Malcolm’s stupidity, there for cheap laughs. Not everything has to be funny; not even ‘a children’s play’ if that’s what it was.

The filmed interviews with the people behind the dramatisation were interesting. I’m glad Bryony Lavery, who adapted the novel for the stage knew the book well enough to know what an important task she’d been given. Her work on shortening this long novel into two hours on the stage was a lesson in what you can do. Having Nicholas Hytner direct was, as she said, a very useful thing.

The way they used modern tech to suggest a flood on stage was very clever. Apart from the odd table, I’d say that the stage was mostly empty of props. It worked extremely well.

And baby Lyra! Apparently they have five babies in rotation, actually on stage, playing the young Lyra. Although it seems that for the oven scene, there was not a real baby in the oven…

Setting aside the issue of fat equals funny, and of this being less Pullman’s book than we’d hoped, it’s good drama. We need more like this.

The Muppet Show

Yeah, because that’s what you were hoping to read about just now, wasn’t it? Well, it is what it is.

It’s become a sort of smallest common denominator thing for the Witch household. We need something to watch with meals, when we don’t feel like talking, and it needs to be a little cheerful, and not so long that you regret starting. Besides, you can always watch two episodes.

I used to love The Muppet Show! And now, well I think back to how starved of entertainment we must have been. It’s good. Some of it, anyway. Certain kinds of humour do not age well, however, including there being warnings before some of the episodes pointing out that [today] we might find them offensive. More baffled, I’d say. The first time we weren’t even sure what was meant to offend.

But the stars! Oh, the stars! I was going to say some of them I’d never heard of, but of course, since I watched all this 45 years ago, I will have seen them at least once before. The more forgettable ones I’ve… well… forgotten.

Kermit is fine, and I still identify with Miss Piggy, and while many of the muppets are less fresh and fun than they once were, they are OK. But the humans… Some of them would rather not have been there, and I quite agree with them. They could have made space for someone else.

Regarding some of them I have begun wondering how you could be a big star back then and have so little appeal. (On the other hand, it seems Daughter is far more tolerant, despite not being of an age where she watched ‘live’.)

Others again are both seemingly keen and also good star material. Some were famous back in the day, by which I mean I knew them as stars at the time, while others have remained reasonably famous all these years.

Some time in the 1990s I was still so keen that I went out and bought the videos. All of them. And they were expensive. I was also delighted when the new Muppet Show began, as I was sure they’d simply carry on from where they left off. But that was a bit of a disappointment.

It was Lena Horne the other evening. I had to explain her to Daughter as the Alphabet Song lady, but that didn’t help. She’s still good though. Great voice. And I’d forgotten the other Sesame Street number Lena used to sing.

There’s plenty more to watch. Some of the stars are worth waiting for, and some of the jokes still work.