Tuesday, 16 October 2007

The nightmare starts here

Friday 12 October

I bought Foyles's only score of Peter Grimes down Charing Cross Road on the way home from work last night. Even with ten per cent student discount it cost £60. This is a frightening amount of money, especially given the second-rate photoreproduction of Boozy & Dorks' edition, evidently done on Mr Blobby's disposable camera.

I mean, SIXTY QUID: I've spent less than that on all-you-can-drink weekend citybreaks (though, granted, these were to cheap, shabby, forlorn, economically desperate corners of the EU, such as Poprad in Slovakia, Szeczin in Poland, or Middlesbrough.)

But on the other hand, it is nearly four hundred pages, so that's only 14p per page, roughly the cost of photocopying it at Goldsmiths.

But on the other other hand, that's nearly four hundred pages of often very challenging music that we've got to learn by Christmas. It's as long as Carmen, with far less obvious notes.

Oh my God.

Saturday 13 October

Talking about cheap, shabby, forlorn, and economically desperate, here I am in Hull, seeing my mum and brother. He and I bike out on the 15-mile cycle path to the east coast. The path is final part of the 215-mile Trans Pennine Cycle Trail, and ends up in the resort – yes, as in 'last' – town of Hornsea.

This is exactly the coastline that Britten conjures up in Peter Grimes so effectively. It may be a hundred miles north of 'The Borough' (Aldeburgh), where Grimes is set, but geographically and atmospherically it's exactly the same. It's a marginal world, the edge of a flat, grey, featureless agricultural plain that transitions seamlessly into a flat, grey, featureless North Sea. The oxymoronic 'Amusement Arcades' are closed or empty, their lights hardly penetrating the mist (they call them 'sea-rokes' here, apparently). It's lunchtime but the tea rooms are shut. We have a sandwich on a bench overlooking the dreary, rust-coloured beach, then a couple of cheap pints in a friendly pub already festooned with Christmas lights and plastic Santas.

Grimes would feel at home here: mists, storms, big skies, small minds, claustrophobia, not many surnames in the phone book, surplus fingers, wary stares towards anyone who has something considered strange, such as a job. There's even a village called Aldbrough further up the coast, though not for long, because like most of the coastline it's crumbling into the sea with the feeble inevitability of a forgotten ginger biscuit left suspended in weak tea.

So the bike trip's all good research. Perhaps I can claim the cost of two pints of Tetley's and a pack of Seabrook's cheese'n'onion against tax. We cycle back home, and suddenly Hull seems vibrant and cosmopolitan.

Monday 15 October
On the train back to London. I really shouldn't do my score-bashing in bed. The last three nights have been turbulent, seething, mildly nightmarish. My customary bad-dream activities (pursuit by assassins, missing trains, unrevised-for exams, subsident housing, and the disturbingly Freudian one of trying to close a door that is too small for the frame) are all being played out to a Grimes soundtrack: one of the Sea Interludes, the Act I storm fugato, or that pesky 7-4 round of Joe Sr and Jr going fishing. Britten was pretty darn good at the nocturnal atmosphere, and there's a feeling of night-terrors-around-corner in a lot of his work (the Nocturnal for Guitar, for example, which I can't play either).

Then again, the blitzkrieg of wine and beer at these family weekends may have had something to do with it.

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