Saturday, 2 September 2017


I spent another day yesterday in a state of utter bewilderment, trying to learn music in Hebrew. I'm now absolutely fine with all the slow stuff, but when the pace goes up a notch, I feel like a 'cellist playing semiquavers all over again. There's a lot of scuffing and my face blushes crimson! I just need time for it all to sink in... and to develop a set of skills to style it out when I can't get my teeth in quickly enough!

After my previous blog, I was half-expecting a load of "hugs babes" type posts on Facebook. You know the sort? Someone has a fragile moment, announces they're feeling down, and receives a load of emoticons and the word "hugs" from people who can't think of anything else to write, but don't want to appear callous to mutual friends. Fortunately my friends were a little more respectful! 

I actually sometimes think it works to throw something out there in the world, because yesterday morning, just hours after posting, I was offered a job! It's only a few hours over a five-week period, but because my employer has already announced the news on Twitter, I can confirm that I am soon to start leading the show choir at Trinity Laban. Students had better watch out! If there's one thing I love more than anything else, it's a good show choir! 

So, first thing this morning, somewhat terrified, I entered the St Petersburg Synagogue for a quick choir rehearsal prior to the service. It's an orthodox synagogue, so there are a huge number of regulations and rules which need to be adhered to on the Sabbath. You can't ring doorbells, kippahs are to be worn at all times, you can't even use a pencil to make changes to the scores, so you have to make a series of mental notes. 

The rehearsal slightly eased my mind about the music, as did the fact that we were singing today in an eight-voice choir, which meant another, hugely experienced, bass always had my back to prevent me from entering a state of perpetual panic. Most of the tunes went brilliantly, and the congregation heaped praise on us, saying we were the best choir they'd ever had in the building, and all the other platitudes and gushing superlatives you often get in these situations. There were, however, a few moments when I found myself corpsing because I couldn't believe the nonsense words which were dripping out of my mouth! 

The synagogue itself is a very fine Victorian brick built building which it felt like an honour to be singing in. A young lad was being bar mitzvahed and delivered the most astonishing speech. I have seen less wisdom in 40 year olds! 

After shul, and much relieved, Michael and I had a lengthy walk around North Kensington, which is an area I know very little. We explored Holland Park and the fringes of Shepherd's Bush, before making a sort of pilgrimage to the Grenfell Tower. It was my idea. I have been so profoundly haunted by that particular story, and seen the building from a distance on so many occasions that I felt it was appropriate to go and read some of the tributes and ad hoc memorials which have been scattered about on the streets in that part of the city. 

It's a very eerie spot. Although you can see the building on the skyline in countless locations, there's actually only one place you can get anywhere near close enough to see the horror in any kind of detail. And it is horrifying. Floor upon floor of twisted metal and charcoal. You can't imagine how anyone got out of the place alive and of course your mind forces you to look to the top floors, where we know large numbers of the building's residents, fleeing flames, gathered together in just one or two flats. It's unimaginable. 

The tributes on the streets are wonderful. One street off the main road is lined entirely with yellow ribbons and countless strings of hearts knitted and crocheted by I've no idea whom. It's a moving and curiously beautiful sight: a reminder that, even though the government and local council were sluggish at best when it came to responding, local people did everything they could, and have subsequently heaped piles of love into the area. On another street, local school children have painted scores of wooden stars, all of which have been attached to fences and lamp posts. 

We had a spot of late lunch in an Austrian cafe on Goldborne Road, which looked rather special bathed in late-summer, late-afternoon sun. And then it was home James and don't spare the horses...

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