It's the same every year, isn't it? First the garden gets full of leaves, then the house gets full of Christmas cards. Your revered and honourable editor and her assistant are only just back from Oz (where yes, they do indeed fill the malls with pictures of holly bunches, right in the hot season). Already the hounds of winter have turned to revenge themselves on those of spring, and the Rev. Hon. Ed. is telling her asst. to make with the news.
But news, now, not so easy. These days one just wanders round having vague thoughts about what to do when one grows up. You learn one tune and forget two others. Think of one thing for the Christmas letter and forget two others. Can't even tease the children these days - they're so grown up that they're settled down and sensible and serious and never do anything ludicrous (donations to the Testimonial Fund as usual, please, lads). But there's news of our 3-yr old grandson Alex - he's just landed his first major onstage appearance in a nativity play - not exactly a walk-on part, more a standstill part. He's to be a tree. We won't be there to see, alas, but maybe for his next appearance (as the Forest in Macbeth?).
Oz was wonderful. Thos was in luck, Monash Uni paid for his expenses, while Jo found herself splendidly lion(ess)ized by no less than 5 research institutes. Getting back, wow, the jet lag: waking at 4 a.m. and not being sure whether it's tomorrow or yesterday, but it certainly isn't today. We kept an online diary. These things are called 'blogs' as I'm sure you all know. No? Well, OK, I only met the word this year. It's a diary kept on the web ('weblog', right?) and there are sites where you just dump some text and it magically appears on your diary. V handy, especially when travelling. If you want to read ours it's at www.eclangs.blogspot.com.
So let's gather some high spots of the year. Strong competition for Most Unexpected Sight: winner, an elderly Chinese gentleman busking with a traditional Chinese two-string fiddle, playing a trad Scottish reel (Miss McCleod of Raasay, to be exact). That was in Sydney, where the city is built in what gaps they could find between the streaming cars. Runner-up was in Melbourne, a trad jazz band playing on bikes. Most unexpected gig of the year: Jo and I ran a workshop on Early Dance Music for the Yorkshire Concertina Club, Jo on viol and me on tina. What a duo! already our first paid gig! That was in Otley, small stone town with cobbled streets, pretty well the opposite of Sydney: nothing much has changed for 100 years, it rains a lot, and the cars fit in what gaps they can find between the streaming stones.
The Chapel Allerton Festival came round again. Somehow I found myself booking all the day acts. That went quite well, if we overlook minor details like not having some technical bits and pieces, so I seem to be liable to do it again. Roll up, all ye performers (still got a vacancy for an act with double bass, soprano, and small girl, for example: Alan and Helen, are you available?) This year someone enterprising organised an Open Gardens tour. We combed the squirrels and ironed the dandelions, and in due course no less than 45 punters came past. The tour was about 2 miles long (willing garden-eers being rather scarce round here) so the punters arrived panting and gobbled biscuits and lemonade as they told us what our plants are called.
I looked through the diary - what on earth did 'practise BP dance' mean? But yes, it was the folk dance commissioned by Bridget and Phil as a wedding present for friends. Part of the Festival was an auction of promises, and those two bought my promise to write a dance. So I did. - Yet another first paid gig, what a year. (By the way, I've just discovered my dance 'A Year in the Life of a Penguin' is being cited in messages by Americans about the 'typical English ceilidh scene'. I wrote it for an 18th birthday party given by a fiddler friend. The party was everything you'd expect and the dance was eminently suitable. Goodness me, has the typical English ceilidh become a room full of hilariously drunk teenagers pretending to be courting penguins?)
I think the Open Gardens must count as Earth Event of the year. Fire Event of the year was a quite beautiful sight: our friend Seonaidh's new electric kettle, which I had filled and left to boil while we wore ourselves out schlepping books upstairs. When the smoke alarm went off we found I'd left it to boil on the gas, and it was slowly disintegrating and melting amidst a circle of excited flames licking up its plastic and casting their yellow tongues hopefully towards the ceiling. I want to repeat that when I've got a camera to hand.
That brings us to Water Events. There were so many to choose from this spring: I went to a folk workshop in Durham and got drenched; then we went together to the Cambridge festival and got much drencheder; then we went to Brittany and got drenchedest of all at the Lorient Festival there. It was so wet that the Irish step dancers turned out with transparent plastic ponchos over their heavily-embroidered dancing kit, looking in the lights of the night like a crew of ghosts doing a Squelch dance. The bands quickly copied, the wind players doing all they could to keep their bagpipes and flutes from getting soaked and the drummers listening sadly to the soggy thumps of their sticks. They have marching Celtic bands, called bagads, based on the Scottish pipe bands but now extended to every kind of bagpipe you can imagine as long as it's Celtic.
Ah yes, Best Excuse of the year. Our friends in Brittany are Jean-Michel and Ginette, with a cottage near the sea, and J-M has announced that he's going to buy himself bagpipes. I don't know what his excuse for that is, (but it's a great idea - I'm going to do the same but I haven't told Jo yet), but he will now have to buy a boat so that he can have somewhere to practise without disturbing people. Of course! Actually, I'm surprised that bagpipe makers don't throw in a free practice boat. You'd think that Health & Safety Regs practically forced them to, otherwise purchasers' neighbours could sue them.
Any offers for the Air Event? We certainly had an air non-event: sitting in a tin box high in the sky for what felt like half our lives as Arabia, India, and Eastern Europe unrolled below.
And yet another unexpected event of the year. Someone at Jo's work showed us a travel brochure where they'd spotted an ad (you know the style - "visit sunny Sicily, untouched by cars or crime") with a photo of a posh restaurant and its owner and chef - and us. Yours truly is gazing vacantly into space and Jo is scowling crossly, as well she might, since we remember the moment well: it was the moment that the chef's elbow had smashed her hard on the back of the head, without even a murmur of apology.
Trivium of the year: in New South Wales there's a kind of parrot that hangs upside on telegraph wires when it's going rain. Why? (And what did it do before telegraphs?)
And a sad note. This year, like the last few, has again seen deaths of wonderful friends. Salutations to them and their families. (On a lesser scale, we also bid farewell to our old cat Smith, now buried in the garden.)
Season's Greetings to everyone,
Thomas and Jo
PS We just helped an old lady across the road. She was 94, she said, and first I thought 'May I be so fit when I'm 94'; and then - 'Lawks, another thirty years of writing Christmas letters?? '
Scene in Penang