Sunday, 15 April 2018

Leighton House

It was an early start yesterday morning, as it is so often on a Saturday. I got into a suit and tie and sailed effortlessly down to Queensway in a way that it’s only possible to do in London on a weekend morning.

I have a lovely ritual. I buy myself a cup of tea from the stall outside Highgate Station, find myself a seat in an empty carriage, and then bury myself in the music I’m going to be singing. I rarely notice anyone around me, although I couldn’t help but notice the bloke, who got on the carriage with me yesterday, whose feet were speckled in a substance which looked a bit like sawdust. On closer inspection, I realised it was vomit. Another subtle glance ascertained that there was barf all over his trousers and shirt and that his face was the colour of a church candle, and equally waxy.

We both got off the train at Tottenham Court Road and, as the tube pulled into the station, I could feel him behind me, swaying and groaning. I tried to imagine what I’d have to say to the choir if I arrived with a chunder chevron on the back of my jacket!

The service went by without any real problems although I had a catastrophic fail at the start of one of the “amens”. I was too busy faffing with my prayer shawl to hear the starting note and merrily took off in an entirely different key, looking accusingly at the rest of the choir, convinced that they were all singing horribly out of tune!

We sang one of my own settings, which was a treat. It’s a pretty difficult piece which requires breath control and, for the bass and the first tenor, very low, and very high notes respectively. I think if you’re writing for the limited tessitura of a male voice choir, you have to try to eke out as much range as possible. I went to school with a girl called Tessie Tura...

We walked out of shul into bright, warm sunshine. Spring has finally arrived! You could see Londoners in T-shirts not being able to believe their luck that such a wonderful day had come on a weekend.

Michael and I went for lunch in a pub, and were astonished that we managed to grab ourselves a table outside, in a glorious sun trap. The portions were tiny. It was described as “tapas-sized” by the waitress, and she certainly wasn’t lying!

In the afternoon we walked to Leighton House in Kensington, the former home of the artist Frederic, Lord Leighton. He had the building built specially to reflect his artistic needs with huge floor-to-ceiling windows, and domed atriums letting light into his studios. He was obsessed with the orient, and the whole place has something of the Alhambra Palaces about it. I was particularly impressed by his ground floor, indoor fountain, and the tiles on the grand, winding staircase, were the most vivid shade of aquamarine.

The walls are lined with paintings by Leighton which are really very fine. His use of light was particularly inspired. One of his paintings depicted two lovers at dusk. The light behind them is a fiery orange, but they themselves are almost silhouetted in a glorious grey-purple shadow. Spectacular.

We took ourselves for a walk down Kensington High Street and then back to Shepherd’s Bush through Holland Park, which, I’ll admit, looks a whole lot better in the sunshine. Fiona told me to look out for a peacock, but the only one I saw today, was stuffed and in Leighton’s House! The world and his wife were in the park, crammed into all of its tiny little lawned areas, having their first picnics of the year.

I listened to Any Questions on the radio, which came from Oxford. I wasn’t sure who any of the people on the panel were apart from Caroline Lucas and Chris Patten, but there was a very disagreeable woman who kept angrily interrupting one of the male panellists to tell him he was talking too much, usually about five seconds after he’d started talking. It was, however, the answers to the question about anti-semitism which irritated me most. “Does the panel believe that you can criticise Israel without being antisemitic?”

Let’s get one thing straight. Of course it is. But being critical of Israel’s government is very different from being critical of Israel itself. What Netanyahu does is not automatically celebrated or supported by Israelis and very few people seem to want to make this important distinction. We criticise Trump. No one talks about criticising America for the decisions he makes.

Anyway, after Chris Patten and Caroline Lucas had given well-considered, someone from the audience screamed “what about Palestine?” And the debate descended into ten minutes of brutal Israel-bashing which didn’t even attempt to to answer the question, and, in my view sounded incredibly anti-Semitic. It was highly aggressive and very worrying listening.

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