Mary's musings

Mary Hoffman, author of over 90 children's books, including the Stravaganza series and Amazing Grace, has begun a web journal which will be updated roughly once a week. You can read more on

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Fireworks in the cathedral

I've been a bit slowed down by a cold which also meant I couldn't have my flu jab. Then, when I was well enough, I was turned down as not being in an "at risk" category. I've been having them for more than fifteen years since a couple of bouts of pneumonia and bronchitis but it wasn't the rejection I minded; it was the waste of time going to the doctor's surgery.

I battled up to London in spite of not being well and found a much wanted book on Simone Martini, in Italian, in the London Library. Also three articles to make notes on. Then I went across to the British Library and re-joined. I've discovered that they have "thousands" of books in Italian so that could be very useful.

We went to a day school in Oxford a week ago on early Christian mosaics (Ravenna and Rome). The lecturer was very well-prepared but just slightly inaccurate about a lot of things. Still, we are all fired up for a trip to Rome next autumn, to celebrate Stevie's big birthday. Meantime there are this year's November birthdays to cope with. Bex got a set of suitcases and took one to Paris where she went for a short break with boyfriend Toby. And I think I've just had an inspiration for Stevie's.

Ann Jungman, writer and publisher friend, came down this weekend and we had some nice meals including one with fellow-writer and SAS member Liz Lindsay, and a good old moan about how hard it is to make a living in this job currently. That said, I've had rather a good royalty cheque this time.

I've bought a new laptop but mysteriously it won't run New York as one of its fonts in Microsoft Word. Since that is my default setting, I find this oddly disturbing but so far have had nothing but frustrating phonecalls with Microsoft. I'll try Apple next. Bad cess to the person who stole Jessica's i-Book with her architectural work on it from university on Wednesday. She didn't discover this till Friday morning and her back-up CD was in the machine at the time so panic and hysteria ensued. It was particularly upsetting to think it might have been a fellow-student.

On Tuesday we went to Worcester cathedral for a service to inaugurate the new Worcester University. It was a mystery why I was invited. I thought it was because the pro-Vice Chancellor is someone I know but when I met her afterwards she said she had noticed my name on the list so it obviously didn't originate from her. It was a very strange service, because there's no prescribed ritual, I suppose. There were two well-known hymns, which we could and did sing lustily, a noisy protestor at the beginning, a collection of readings and numerous addresses of welcome and thanks. They are clearly VERY pleased at getting University status.

But no-one could decide whether the readings were to be themed or just people's favourites so we had some very inappropriate gloomy Housman and John Betjeman and a staged reading of a scene from Educating Rita, Keats' Ode on First looking into Chapman's Homer etc etc. But the best bit by far was the finale when pure white and silver fireworks shot out from the clerestory in a prearranged pattern. That was genuinely uplifting. After a glass of champagne in the chapter house we exited the cathedral and found the lone protestor standing meekly holding a placard about vivisection. My sentiments are with her entirely but I didn't stop to talk.

Last night we went to hear Boulez conduct the BBC symphony orchestra in a programme of French music, including a piece of his own, as part of his 80th birthday celebrations. Extraordinary how such a revolutionary composer has become a grand old man of the establishment. Debussy's Jeux and 3 Villon poems were enjoyable but very sort of misty and difficult to see the structure of; they seemed to be the musical equivalent of Monet's late water lily studies. Boulez' own "Le Soleil des eaux" was most beautifully sung by Elizabeth Atherton and a really good piece. They are poems by Rene Char and the first is about a lizard in love.

Peter Maxwell Davies and Harrison Birtwistle made a little speech at the beginning of the second half and gave Boulez the Ivor Novello award - a very odd association but Pierre accepted it graciously. Then there was what the Barbican's announcer had called "Daphne and Chloe", which sound like a pair of Brookside lesbians. It was so ravishing to hear the full piece instead of a suite and what a stunning composer Ravel is! People who know him only from Bolero have no idea what they are missing. I remember thinking when I was at university that he was a bit of a hack but that was before I'd heard Scheheradzade or the quartet or the Introduction or Allegro, let alone the two fabulous piano concertos. The one for the left hand only was the first piece Stevie ever played me.

Tonight we are off to a fireworks display in Minster Lovell, which I hope will cheer Jess up and also be part of Bexy's birthday celebrations. She has lost her voice and I am still recovering mine so we'll be a husky party. Then we'll go and have a Chinese meal at the Pink Giraffe in Oxford, where they do things like vegetarian duck. And tomorrow we'll have shepheard's pie and champagne, just like Jeffrey Archer - though there I trust the resemblance will stop.