Friday, December 30, 2016

William Waldegrave's A Different Kind of Weather

Just finished this delightful and brilliant memoir by William Waldegrave, giving a frank account of his burning youthful ambition to become PM and how he failed but learned some wisdom on the way.  Far too many gems to list, but here are a few:

  • What was Sir Richard Waldegrave's friend Geoffrey Chaucer really like?  What colour was the dragon... against which his son, another Sir Richard, rode out in 1405...And did it breathe fire like Mrs Thatcher? After meeting either, the younger Sir Richard's experiences at Agincourt would have seemed tame. Were these Richards, father and son, really, as my mother suggested, the very parfit gentle knight and his son of the Canterbury Tales? Chaucer dresses the son in our family colours, and the father had fought with the Teutonic knights in Russia and at the taking of Alexandria in 1365, just as the elder Richard Waldegrave had done. One can dream.
  • One day... when I was a minister... George Jellicoe rang my office to as if I would go to Athens over a weekend ... to deliver the Onassis Lecture. Weekends at home were extremely precious. I said, 'No.' There was a pause of a few hours, then George rang back. Would go to Athens over a weekend ... to deliver the Onassis Lecture and drive on the Mani and stay with Paddy Leigh Fermor.... He might as well have asked. 'Would you like to go to Ithica and meet Odysseus?' Of course I would.
  • {on a visit to Mao} we gave our hosts a Darwin first-edition facsimile (this was the first item on the television news for three days running). The Keynes family had suggested the latter as a suitable present for Mao, said to be a Darwin enthusiast, but they refused to surrender the presentation copy of Das Kapital that Mark had sent to Darwin. The book is, satisfactorily, unopened, the pages not separated.
He  became Chairman of the Rhodes Trust and got to know Mandela. Mandela agreed to establish the Mandela Rhodes Foundation. 
  • "He knew exactly whom he was offending - on the right and the left - by doing this, and he rejoiced in it. There is a photograph of him standing beneath the glowering portrait of Rhodes in the MRF headquarters... He is wagging a finger at the portrait, and was saying, 'Cecil, you and I are going to work together'
And in the epilogue he asks "what would I answer finally to Isaiah Berlin's question... 'What did you learn? What did you learn?'
  • First, I have learned that ... there is no such thing as a process of history.  Nothing is inevitable; people can and do make a difference...
  • Second, I have learned that the occasions where such a decisive swerve can be imparted to history are quite rare. Churchill in the May days of 1940... Thatcher in the key years between 1981 and about 1984. But most of politics is not like that: it is normally an unending struggle to make things a little better, or stop them becoming a little worse... it is usually better to have honest and decent people in power, rather than heroes. And it is important that they use the rhetoric that reflects the routine nature of what they do... Democracy - not just head-counting in order to avoid rational discourse, but real, complex democracy - faces as much danger from the ridiculous mutual savagery of those who compete for its prizes as it does from external hazards
  • Finally...if you wake up one day and think,  'There is no significant life beyond politics,' then that is the time to quit.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Boxing Day and Psalm 148

Wonderful Christmas Day with all our descendants and living ancestors. It was also great to go to SPH for Christmas Day - fascinating sermon from the vicar on the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew - the genealogies which are often skipped but which emphasise that the incarnation is a real event. It's also interesting, as noted, that the women mentioned (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Uriah's former wife, and Mary) had controversial aspects to them.

Now I have the same delight of all my descendants and my one living ancestor, although C's parents have gone back.

So I must get back to family. But here is the set Boxing Day Psalm:

Psalm 148
O Praise The LORD in the Heavens
O praise Him in the height
O praise Him all His Angels
O praise Him all His might
O praise Him sun and moon
O praise Him starry lights
O praise Him heaven of heavens
And waters in the heights

O let them to The LORD's great name give praise
Because at His command they came to be
For ever, evermore He set them firm
He gave His unsurpassable decree.

O praise The LORD from the earth
Sea monsters and all deeps

O Fire, hail, snow, and vapours,
Wind, storm that do His deeds.
O mountains and all hills
Fruit trees and cedars tall
O Creeping things and winged birds
O Beasts and cattle all
O earthly kings and peoples
Rulers and judges of earth
Youngsters, maidens, people all
Whatever your age or birth

O let them to the LORD's great name give praise
For His name is exalted all alone
His glory above heaven and earth is raised
And He has lifted up His nation's horn.
That [rightful] praise His righteous ones should win
For Israel's children, people close to Him.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

Yesterday to the Crib Service at St Paul's Hammersmith which was a sweet build-up to the crib scene punctuated by carols. The grandchildren enjoyed participating.

On Friday to the Richmond Pantomime, Sleeping Beauty, where the wicked fairy was played with gusto by Maureen Lippmann. I've long admired her and first met her at a show of Janie Dee's where she told me to send Janie her love but she had to go back to Jack her husband who was ill. The juveniles were Lauren Hood (who was Vera in Mrs Henderson Presents - the Musical) and Dan Partridge - I wonder what will happen to them?

Sadly we didn't have time to go backstage on Friday because my sister was kindly driving my mother up from Cornwall and we all had a delightful family supper together, and raised a glass as always to my late father who died on the 23rd.

Here is  a Christmas Psalm - ​Psalm 126 (a song of ascents)
O when The LORD returned the ones returning to Zion
We were as ones who dreamed!
Then were our mouths with laughter filled, our tongues filled with singing
Then they will tell the nations that The LORD
Has done great and amazing things for us!
The LORD has done great things for us - we're overjoyed!
Return O LORD us ones who do return
Like watercourses in the Negev desert.
The ones who sow in tears shall reap in song
They go,
They go out weeping carrying the seeds
They come,
They come back singing, carrying the sheaves.
The somewhat curious word repetitions: returned/ go /come /carrying are all in the original.

I wish you all a very merry and blessed Christmas and a wonderful 2017.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Psalm 105

From The Sarajevo Hagaddah,
Courtesy Wikipedia

O give thanks to The LORD, call on His name
And make His works be known among the nations!
O sing to Him, O bring your song to Him
And tell of all the wonders He has done!
Exult and glory in His holy name
They will be glad of heart who seek The LORD!

O search out for the LORD and for His strength
Continually seek His countenance! 
Recall to mind the miracles He's done
The judgments and the wonders of His mouth.
Descendants of His servant Abraham
Children of Jacob, you His chosen ones.
He is The LORD indeed He is our God
His judgments reign supreme in all the earth.

Forever He recalls His covenant
The word He gave for a thousand generations.
That He made with His seal with Abraham
And with His solemn oath to Isaac too
Gave it to Jacob as a fixed decree
An everlasting covenant to Israel.
Saying: to you I'll give the land of Canaan
It shall be your inheritance and lot.

When they were few, in number very small
And sojourning like strangers in that land.
They wandered from one nation to another
And from one kingdom to a different people.
But no one was allowed to plunder them
And kings got His rebuke on their behalf:
Do not lay hands on my anointed ones
And to my prophets you shall do no harm.

He called, and famine fell upon the land
And all the staff of bread He broke in bits.
He sent ahead of them a single man
Joseph, who was sold as a mere slave
They hurt his foot with fetters forged from iron
But he came through all this with life preserved.
Until the time came when his word came true
The saying of The LORD purified him.

The King sent orders that he be released
The ruler of the peoples set him free
And he ordained him master of his house
And ruler over all that he possessed.
To bind his ministers as he should choose
And teach and give instructions to his elders.

And Israel came into the land of Egypt
And Jacob dwelt within the land of Ham.
And He increased His people very much
And made them stronger than their enemies
Whose heart towards His people turned to hate
To devise dreadful plots against His servants.

He sent to them Moses His servant true
And Aaron who He chose to work with him
They made among them words and deeds His signs
And wondrous works within the land of Ham.
He sent them darkness made it dark
And they rebelled not ‘gainst his word
He turned their waters into blood
And put to death their fish therein.
A plague of frogs swarmed in their land
And reached the chambers of their kings
He spoke and lice arrived to plague
All creatures in their territory.
He gave them hail instead of rain
And flaming fire within their land
And struck the vines and their fig trees
And broke the trees within their land
He spoke and locusts came to plague
And hopping locusts numberless
And ate all grass within their land
And ate the fruit within their land
And He struck all firstborn in their land
the first of all their strength.
He brought them out with silver and with gold
And no-one in His tribes was a stumbler
Egypt rejoiced when they went out
Because their fear fell upon them
He spread a cloud to cover them by day
And sent them fire to give them light by night
They asked of Him and He did send them quail
And satisfied them with the bread of heaven.
He opened up a rock and water gushed
A river flowed within the wilderness.

For He was mindful of His holy word
The word He gave to Abraham His servant.
And He brought out His people joyfully
His chosen ones with songs suffused with joy.
And He did give to them the heathen’s lands
And they inherited the nations’ toil.
So that they shall observe his laws always
And His Torah may keep, and give Him praise.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Il Trovatore with Quinn Kelsey

Jennifer Davis, Gabor Bretz, Quinn Kelsey, Stefano Secco,
Maria Agresta, Anita Rachvelishvili and David Junghoon Kim
To the ROH last night to see Quinn Kelsey in Il Trovatore, the final night with that cast. I'd never seen this opera before and so made sure I didn't read any synopsis of the plot in the programme or otherwise, and could hear it for the first time.

The plot hinges of a Troubadour who turns out not to be the grandson of a gypsy burned at the stake for being a witch, but the son of the Count who burned her. This is in itself hard to locate historically: Troubadours were around 1100-1350. However in the Middle Ages there are almost no cases of people being burned as Witches - the Catholic Church from 900 to 1300 was adamantly against witch hunting and took the position stated clearly by Augustine that witchcraft simply didn't exist. Witch-hunting was a Renaissance activity. However Verdi and his librettist Salvadore Cammarano would not have known this (nor would the Spanish playwright on whose play the work is based) and it's meant to be around 1300.  So naturally in Covent Garden we have a tank and an army with machine guns. Ah well, that's Opera Director's for you!

The singing and acting were very fine indeed. Gabor Bretz grabbed attention and then Quinn came in with his dominating and almost mesmeric presence. Although he is the "villain" he is also the pivotal person and (I think) on stage the most. This was Stefano Secco's only appearance as the titular Tovatore Manrico and he did a fine job. But Anita Rachvelishvili as the gypsy Azucena was astounding, an amazing voice and a compelling performance for which she rightly got enormous applause. This was the last evening for the December cast: there is a new cast in Jan/Feb but she is the only major part that stays and is an excellent reason to go and see the production.

Quinn is really superb and if you can you should definitely catch his Rigoletto in Frankfurt (March and April 2017) or San Francisco (May 31st - July 1st) - I saw him in this in London and he is amazing!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Denis Noble's latest paper: Evolution viewed from physics, physiology and medicine

From Video of Denis's lecture in London in Nov
Deeply honoured to have been sent a draft of Denis Noble's latest paper "Evolution viewed from physics, physiology and medicine" on his brilliant work rethinking the foundations of evolutionary theory, and to have been able to suggest some improvements which has has found helpful. I think this paper will come out in Journal of the Royal Society: Interface next year.

One important presentational point is that he is offering a Principle of Biological Relativity and it is better to describe it thus rather than a Theory, which nowadays has the connotations of something with a more detailed mathematical basis that makes specific predictions. This will be for others to develop - perhaps Martin Nowak and his brilliant colleagues.

Obviously I can't post anything from the paper until it is published but do look out for it. In the meantime, get Denis' book (though the Second Edition will have some significant improvements, not least in clarifying the Principle/Theory issue) and/or watch his lecture.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

NCPA and Sanya concerts

Back from an amazing and largely unbloggable trip to China. But I can talk about the concerts I went to!  On the 3rd it was a delightful production of Don Pasquale at the NCPA. This had the rather delicious conceit of making Dr Malatesta into a Groucho Marx figure and having a mute Harpo (right in the photo) coming on a making mischief, with the Doctor's cousin as Chico. Norina (Rosa Feola), Pasquale (Carlo Lepore) and Malatesta (Allesando Luongo) were excellent. The following evening I went to a piano recital about which the less said the better!

However in Sanya my friend Warren Mok and some of his friends sang at a concert and we were delighted to hear them and go to dinner afterwards. All crowd-pleasers but very nicely performed, and it was great fun to catch up with Warren. Wang Bingbing is at the start of her career and living in Milan. Liao Chanyong is terrific - Warren says he is the best in China which I can well believe.

The Guanzhou Symphony Orchestra with their excellent female conductor Jing Huan will be touring the UK next year - well worth catching.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Two dinners with brilliant friends

Lots going on and not really time to blog it. Dinner with friends in the Reform Club where I saw this rather delicious cartoon, reminding us that political strife isn't exactly new.

On Sunday we had dinner with our brilliant friend Hava Siegelmann who was on a short visit to London. And on Monday, dinner on High Table at Trinity with the great Cynthia Dwork and my old friend Andrew Blake. Opposite her was the Fields Medalist Alan Baker who had taught me as an undergraduate. He was delighted to find that Cynthia's father was Bernard Dwork, described in his Princeton obituary as "perhaps the world’s greatest p-adic analyst." They say "His proof of the rationality of the zeta function of varieties over finite fields, for which he was awarded the AMS Cole Prize in Number Theory, is one of the most unexpected combinations of ideas we know of."

Then when we retired to the Combination Room for Port and further conversation we found ourselves next to David Baulcombe the great plant biologist. And on my recommendation he's going to read Denis Noble's new book Dance to the Tune of Life.

What a small and interesting world!