Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Oh, get a grip, willya?

Warning - this is a female post, about female problems.

The average age for menopause in the UK is apparently either 51 or 52 depending on who you read.  I am 48 1/2.  I've had an 'interesting' relationship with all things reproductive since the age of 12 when it all kicked off.  My cycles have varied in length wildly over the years.  I only managed to get pregnant 'normally' (although accidentally) once but it didn't stick.  And then, when I actually did want to get pregnant, I couldn't do it without medical intervention and they also didn't want to stick.  Hey ho.

A few years ago, my rather wonderful chiropractor/Traditional Chinese Medicine doctor that I've seen for 20 years suggested that I start using progesterone cream.  I think I'd probably told him that I was starting to get some mild hot flushes and my periods were getting painful, as painful as they'd been when I was in my 20s.  The cream has given me cycles as regular as clockwork, which is astonishing.  I can mark 26 days on my calendar now and know that Aunt Flo will arrive exactly within a 24 hour period.  I still get the odd hot flush but they've always been pretty mild, I'm certainly not getting dreadful night sweats or anything like that, for which I'm grateful as they sound awful.  So the cream has helped, but Aunt Flo is still visiting regularly, every month.  Some months a bit heavier than others, but she always arrives.  I wonder how long it will be before she stops because, frankly, I can't wait.

All this I have, of course, expected but the one symptom that has caught me out is the emotional one.  I'm not a cryer. Never have been.  I can vividly remember waaaay back when I was 11 or 12, maybe 13, deciding that only weak people cried, it was girly and pathetic and I was not going to do it.  Ever.  No-one would ever see me cry.  And I've stuck to that astonishingly well over the decades since.  I rarely feel the need to cry, I hardly ever get that emotionally upset and, if I do, then I'll do my crying in the shower or the bath where I can be left in peace and no-one can witness it.

I'm not really sure what this says about me.  I'm sure some psychiatrist will see me as being too in control of my emotions, and that it's a sign of me building a big protective wall around me.  I'm sure there's more than an element of truth in that.  You let people in emotionally, you usually get hurt, and that's painful.  This might explain why I have very few friends in real life - people I would call 'proper' friends, not just acquaintances - and only a handful of boyfriends over the years.  The less people you get really close to, the less likely they are to fuck you over.

The side effect of this is, of course, loneliness.  Which is a whole other post in itself and not what I wanted to talk about.

What I wanted to talk about was the unexpected emotional upheaval of the menopause.  Boy, has that ever caught me out.  I remember when I was going through my IVF cycles in the late 90s that, in each cycle, there was always at least one day when I would find myself utterly bereft and prostrate with sadness and grief.  I would dehydrate myself with crying.  The emotional pain was overwhelming and, needless to say, deeply unwelcome.  I can even remember being unable to go into work on one of these days because I literally could not control myself and stop sobbing.  It was dreadful.  The next day, though, I'd wake up, feel fine and think to myself 'what the fuck was that all about, then?'  When we stopped doing the IVFs, those weird emotional days stopped.

And now they're bloody back.  Over about the last year, in each month, I've had at least one day when I've felt unbearably sad, and have ended up going through half a box of tissues with crying so much.  I hate it.  And then it dawned on me that it was a symptom of the menopause.  I remembered those days during the IVFs and realised they came during the part of the cycle when the doctors put you into an artificial menopause.  So that was obviously what was going to happen to me when I hit menopause for real.  And it has come to pass.  And I wish it would carrying on passing and go by me completely.

This time round, though, it's not actually as bad as the IVF crying days but it's equally as unwelcome.  And my trigger is anything to do with animals.  I can watch any number of starving kids in Africa adverts and they do nothing, but the cruelty to animals ones?  Woah.  Also those videos where humans are reunited with lost pets, or animals they used to care for years ago (like the lion one - you know the one I mean - or the one I saw this morning which started this off, where a grown gorilla meets up again with the guy who looked after him when he was little and he remembers him and hugs him so hard he won't let him go and oh god, where are the tissues....?)

Jesus.  See what I mean.  I can't see the screen through the haze of tears. Bloody hell.  And don't get me started on what it's going to be like when we have to say goodbye to Sylvester, our cat and  my constant companion for the last 13 years or so.  See, I start to think about all this, my fingers and hands do this bizarre tingling thing, and the tears start pouring down my face in some sort of pre-emptive grief.  It's utterly, utterly ridiculous and I feel so foolish.  Plus I know I'll wake up tomorrow and will feel perfectly stable again and wonder what the hell that was all about.

Yes, as you might have guessed, today is one of 'those' days.  I need to find something distracting to do, rather than just sit here and wallow in my misery, and I will in a minute or so.  There's washing needs to be done but, more likely, a piano that also needs playing.  But I was wondering, does anyone know how long this will go on for?  Have any of my lovely readers (if I still have any) been through this and, if so, how did they cope?

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Quick catch up

Wotcha all.  How's tricks?  We're all well at Jones Towers, October has been rolling on apace and the weather has been gorgeous, hasn't it?  It's been a fantastic autumn so far, lots of blue, blue skies, warm sunshine and crunchy yellow leaves on the ground.

I harvested the half dozen or so Butternut Squashes that I managed to grow this year at the allotment.  I grew 13 last year and lost the lot to an early frost so this year I was determined not to make the same mistake.  A ground frost was predicted last Wednesday so I decided to pick them.  And now, of course, it's sunny and warm again but, you know what?  if I'd left them, we would most likely be sitting in snow drifts 30 feet deep!  Oh well, never mind.  They were mostly ripe - although varying in size from acceptable to pretty bloody small - and are finishing off sitting in the sunshine on my kitchen windowsill.

I'm giving serious consideration to jacking in the allotment.  There's a few reasons really.  One is that it's bloody hard work but I knew that going in.  Another is that every year we all get judged by the committee.  I hate this.  It's probably not as drastic as I make out, in that all the committee members need to see is that you're actually working the plot and that it hasn't gone entirely to seed and become weed-bound, but I can't help getting quite stressed out about it in the weeks leading up to the end of June.  And I'm quite a lazy person - actually, that's not strictly true.  I'm not good at being consistent in how much I do - I'll put in vast amounts of effort and then not do anything for ages, then I'll do vast amounts again.  It's also the way I do my housework.  I can literally not see the piles of clutter and dustbunnies for weeks, then suddenly I'll have a day when I go mental and CLEAN ALL THE THINGS, then don't touch them again for weeks and am genuinely surprised that they haven't stayed clean on their own in the interim.  I really like the idea of just doing 15 minutes a day but that would mean I'd have to be consistent.  I'd be very good at doing it for a few days on the trot then, one morning, I'd wake up and think 'fuck that, I'll do it later' and that would be it.  I know my natural inability to do housework and keep surfaces clear drives TLH potty but, you know, I've always been like that.  There's some stuff in this life that I'm pretty good at but housework is not one of them.  Sorry.

But I've digressed, haven't I?  Back to the allotment.  I don't get any help doing the work at the allotment.  That's okay.  I don't like doing housework, my significant other doesn't like doing gardening.  But the allotment is big and I could really do with a hand every few weeks.  Frankly it's too big for me but I really don't want to give up half of it - I want it all to myself.  So, a conundrum.  Suggesting asking friends to help would be greeted with hollow laughter - I don't have that many real-life friends and those that I do all work full-time and have large families to look after.  And they hate gardening too. 

Finally, the allotment isn't in my back garden.  It's 5 minutes walk down the road.  And even that's too far sometimes.  If it was in my garden then I'd potter around in it on and off during the day - 10 minutes here, 10 minutes there.  If I wanted to I could go out to water in my dressing gown.  And no-one would get all judgy about it.

But I do like the actual act of growing things, planting the seeds and (hopefully) eating the produce.  *sigh*.  I've got until February to decide what to do.

So, while I've been ignoring the allotment, what else has occupied my time?  Playing the piano!!!  I'm having a ball and have, frankly, astonished myself with what I actually remember, having not played the damn thing for 35-odd years.

One of the really lovely things about it is that I seem to have managed to impress TLH and, believe me, when you've been together for 17 years, there's not much that impresses anymore. I know he'd like to learn as well but, as is the way with human nature, doesn't really fancy doing it the hard way and having lessons to learn from scratch - he'd much rather just sit at the keyboard and be able to play (wouldn't we all?) but, unfortunately, it doesn't work like that.  Still, I'm starting to teach him how to play Erik Satie's Gnossienne No. 1, little by little, and he's picked up the first few bars of the right hand melody quickly enough so it shouldn't be long before I teach him the left hand bass line and he has a go at putting them together.

For those that don't know, this is Gnossienne No. 1 - it's a fairly easy piece to learn, there's a lot of repetition of the same chords and the right hand only plays the melody line with no chords at all - it's a very pleasing piece to both listen to and play and only took me a couple of weeks to get to grips with:

I'm now learning Gymnopedie no. 1, which is the famous one that everyone knows, and also another Gnossienne, no. 3 this time, which I think sounds even more mysterious, ethereal and somehow melancholy but also uplifting.  I think I like it even more than Gnossienne No. 1:

Also, I'm relearning a piece I was starting to learn back when I was 14 when I decided I didn't want to play anymore.  It's a fairly standard Grade 5 piece called 'To a Wild Rose' by Edward MacDowell and it's really quite cheesily sentimental and nostalgic but rather satisfying:

The piano is set up in the dining room bit of our living room so it's easy for me to walk past it and 'just sit down for 10 minutes' which turns into 2 hours and means the washing's still not done and the dishwasher's still not loaded but, hey, I can now play that bit that was foxing me yesterday! Win!   So, yeah, a massive time-sponge at the moment but I'm loving it so much that I don't care.

We also went to the Guildford Civic again last night to catch another orchestra on tour.  This time it was the Czech National Symphony Orchestra playing some Dvorak and Brahms.  Soloists were Nicola Benedetti on violin and Leonard Elschenbroich on cello. 

I'll be honest, both TLH and I were a little disappointed.  I think we were spoiled by the superb Moscow Philharmonic earlier this month with their spectacular violin soloist.  This orchestra was smaller and seemed a little - how to describe it? - lacklustre?  Just short of sparkling?  Dunno.  The Dvorak they played was fine and lovely, a couple of Slavonic dances to start with, and they finished with the New World Symphony which you would have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by, but it was the middle thing that let it down a bit, which is a shame, because it was a Concerto for Violin and Cello by Brahms.

I don't think I care all that much for Brahms, and I didn't particularly care for this piece after nearly falling asleep in it.  Admittedly the hall was very hot and I'd been awake quite early, but there didn't seem to be much going on to hold my attention.  It was like a wave of warm, lush strings were washing over me which was all very nice, I suppose, but not terribly exciting.  Some of the entrances by the woodwind section were a bit ragged as well.  And I've no doubt that Ms Benedetti on her violin and Mr Elschenbroich on his cello were virtuosi, but they were both kind of lost in the piece.  It didn't really do either of them any favours and didn't make either of them stand out.  A crying shame really.  I think a better piece could have been chosen if they absolutely had to play together.  Even better would have been to have them play a showy-offy piece each, something that could have showcased their individual talents.  Oh well, never mind.  It was very interesting to be able to compare orchestras though.  And there were more people in the audience this time, which was good to see although I did notice that they didn't give a standing ovation this time (unlike the ovation and 3 encores for the Moscow lot), so perhaps we weren't the only ones who thought 'hmm, 8 out of 10.  Must do better'.

The next orchestra we'll be seeing in this season is the Russian State Philharmonic on 8 February who'll be playing the wonderful 'Masquerade Suite' by Khachaturian, Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 2 and Rachmaninov's Symphony No. 2.  Let's hope they bring their A game.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Last night's gig

Guildford, the nearest big town to where I live, has a new civic hall.  The old civic hall was closed ages ago now and eventually knocked down and rebuilt.  I spent a lot of time in my youth in the old civic hall.  It was on the gig circuit so in the 70s and 80s everyone came to play there.  I saw (in no particular order) Dr Feelgood, The Damned, The Buzzcocks, Lene Lovich, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Cramps, The Police, Bauhaus, Toyah, The Jam, The Stranglers, The Vapors - I'm sure there are others but I can't remember.  The Civic was a 40 minute bus ride from where I lived then, and it meant I got to see all these great bands without having the bother and expense of getting on a train up to London and then trying to get home again when the last bus had already left.

 The old Civic Hall

But the building was getting on a bit and so needed to be replaced.  This was never going to be a quick and easy thing, not when the Good Burghers of Guildford are involved.  There would be wranglings over funding and size and parking, and so it came to pass. I think it's been at least 10 years since it was last open.

The new Guildford Civic main entrance, seen from London Road

Side exits, York Road side


The new Civic Hall finally opened last week.  I have to say, it is much nicer than the old one, but then that wouldn't be difficult.  They have, though, given it the god-awful name of 'GLive', which sounds like a boyband to me.  What's wrong with 'Guildford Civic Hall'? It's succinct and accurate, and anyone who's from around these parts knows exactly what you're talking about.  But 'GLive'?  Oh well.

So now they have to fill it with events that people actually want to go to.  The initial programme was released and I have to say that my heart sank a little when it appeared to be full of the same sort of things that every suburban hall has on these days - some 'psychic', 60s bands touring to up their pensions, military bands, yet another touring production of Blood Brothers, an evening with a couple of football pundits, bloody Jim bloody Davidson - stuff that you can see in Woking or Aldershot, should you so wish.  I'm sure this kind of stuff floats some folks' boats, but not mine.  They are, however, putting on some decent stand up comedians (and I'm not including bloody Jim bloody Davidson in that, obv.) - Stephen Merchant, Jimmy Carr, Mickey Flanagan, Ed Byrne - so that's good, but where were the rock/pop/alternative bands?  It seems I wasn't the only person with these questions and there was a bit of a correspondence about it in the letters pages of the local rag.  To be fair, the manager did reply and say that as the Civic had been off the circuit for so many years now, it was going to be a while before the rest of the world realised it was open for business again and it started being included as a tour venue.  Which I suppose is fair enough really.  At least they've now got the Kaiser Chiefs coming next year, which should be loud and energetic (God, I'm starting to sound like an "old person").

But what I have been thrilled about is the classical music offerings.  I've been wanting to go and see some big professional orchestras play for quite a while now, but for us we'd have to go up to That London.  And sometimes that just seems like a lot of faff, not to mention cost.  The South Bank is the nearest, most direct, decent classical venue for us but we'd still have to add at least 2 hours travelling time (hour there, hour back) plus the cost of the train tickets (best part of about £30) to the cost of the performance tickets, plus drinks and food when you get there and you're looking at little change back from a hundred quid.  I may not be on my uppers but even that's pricey to me.  The new Civic (I refuse to call it GLive - sorry) is 15 mins drive and tickets start at £19.50.  That's about as full of win as it can get, in my book.

So I've been booking tickets to go to their International Orchestral Concert Season, starting with last night's performance by the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra.  Inside the hall is as impressive as the outside:

Inside the new Guildford Civic Hall

We were sat right at the very back - where the cheapest seats are.  I figured that, as it was an orchestra rather than a play or a comedian, it wouldn't be essential to see the faces of the performers close up - it's the sound that's important, so we were in the second to back row.

As you can see, the MPO is a big orchestra.  I tried counting the players and there are at least 80, which is a hell of a lot of kit to organise and ship and insure.  The logistics must be incredible.  They played  I don't know what you call them.  'Pieces by 3 different composers' I suppose is better. 

The first thing they played was Prokofiev's Romeo & Juliet Suite, which you'll know.  Here, listen to this youtube video, carry on past the two big opening discordant bits, and you'll get to something you recognise:

There, see, you know it, didn't you?  I personally prefer the next bit after that, with the light, shimmering strings, it always makes me well up.  Interestingly, it wasn't until I was looking for a suitable YouTube vid to show you that I discovered that Prokofiev used to be the conductor for the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, so it's fitting they should play his stuff.

Then they played Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D major with Nikita Boriso-Glebsky as soloist.  He'd just started playing and after a few minutes I thought to myself "Wow, this sounds a bit like the theme to 'The Right Stuff'".  And it was!  'The Right Stuff' is one of my all time favourite films of all time, and the bit that always made me cry was when the Mercury Seven emerge from a hanger in their silver space suits, in a row, walking in slow motion, and the impossibly heroic music swells [it's the bit that starts at 6:49 in the video below, if you're interested] and I just crumble.  Every. Time.  And here was this huge orchestra playing it for me.  Right now.  And I hadn't known.  Blimey.

Plus the soloist was incredible.  Obviously, as it was a big solo piece, it's unbelievable showy-offy, but that's what being a soloist is all about.  And - feck me - he was good.  See for yourselves, I found a YouTube clip of him playing the exact same piece in a competition in 2007 (but with a smaller orchestra):

How bloody fab was that?  And how on earth do these people remember it all without the music?  Amazing.

They finished off with Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition.  Again, you'll know it.  I managed to find another YouTube video but this time it's of the actual orchestra we saw last night, with the actual conductor, playing the actual piece they played (the conductor is Yuri Botnari, hence the name of the website).  This is just the intro, but you'll know it:

The final 'picture' - The Great Gates of Kiev - ends with the boys on percussion banging hell out of tubular bells, a gong, timpani, cymbals and lord knows what else.  Check it out from about 4:30 on this vid:

The most astonishingly heart-soaring and uplifting piece of music.  TLH and I enjoyed it tremendously, which is, sadly, more than can be said for the rest of the population of Guildford, who seemingly preferred to spend the night in front of the telly watching X Factor or some other such bollocks instead of hearing properly talented performers.  Mindless fuckwits.

This fantastic orchestra and performers were playing their hearts out to about 250 people.  The hall will seat 1700.  It was mostly empty.  A crying shame, literally.  But we 250 people gave them countless standing ovations and clapped until our hands were swollen.  We got 3 encores for our troubles.  It was brilliant.

I hope this lack of attendance can be put down to the fact that it was only the second classical gig in the new Hall and it just hasn't dawned on people yet that they now have this fantastic opportunity to hear some of the most extraordinary music and performers, right on their doorstep.   TLH and I enjoyed it so much that we decided to book tickets for the rest of the season, so in a couple of weeks we're seeing the fabulous Nicola Benedetti and the Czech National Symphony Orchestra playing, amongst others, Dvorak's New World Symphony (which  has particular resonance with me, being the first classical LP that my parents bought me); in February next year there's the Russian State Philharmonic Orchestra doing Khachaturian's Masquerade Suite and other stuff; March has Julian Lloyd Webber doing Elgar, Haydn, Barber and Mozart; April has the English Chamber Orchestra doing Vivaldi's Four Seasons and some Bach and Elgar and, finally, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra doing Fantasia on a theme of Thomas Tallis & The Lark Ascending by Vaughan Williams, and a couple of Beethovens.  I can't wait.

Plus, to top off a fantastic evening, TLH and I stopped off for a bag of chips on the way home!  Result!