May 23rd, 2008


Of course, I wish I were in Madison...Or New York, come to that.

But instead I am in London, working reasonably hard. I was worried that I had not done any work on the novel since I got a working computer back and then I realized that actually I have done so much work this week, it is not surprising. Three reviews, seven reports and a piece for a National Film Theatre catalogue...Also, I had to watch Tank Girl again for the catalogue piece and because I shall be presenting it in July, and I had a bunch of finales - Gossip Girl, Reaper and Grey's - to watch.

All of which were awesome in their way - GG set up some nice starting points for next year, Reaper did a bunch of interesting things and Grey's was gorgeous - the kiss - tolerable - the DerMer stuff- and wonderfully bizarre - concrete guy. There is probably an audience for whom concrete guy was a PSA - don't do this kids - rather than a complicated metaphor about the closet, and I say bless that audience, because we love their naive....

Betty will have to wait for later - I may even save it for tomorrow because there is no BSG and no Who...

Meanwhile, the really good thing about not going to Wiscon was that I was here and got to watch the amazing BBC4 documentary about Vaughan Williams - which presumably will show up on iPlayer and be repeated endlessly. It is essential both as an introduction to/celebration of music that is a joy to listen to, and as a piece of social history.

I am not entirely convinced that Vaughan Williams is the greatest British composer of C20 - and let it be remembered that is no great prize to win given the Russian, German and French competition and at least one Hungarian and one Finn in contention - but he is certainly a very fine one who came up with his own approach to the modernist dilemma. He was also very prolific - starting a little late, he composed symphonies in his 90s.

The documentary explained some of the background to his later work - his wife had been crippled with arthritis in her early 30s. The Third Symphony is partly about the desolation of WW1 and his loss of friends, and partly about their own personal tragedy. Years later in his sixties, he met a younger woman and they became lovers; Adeline and Ursula managed to become friends - the three of them held hands in air raids - and everyone seems to have behaved reasonably well, in a sensible tight-lipped way. It is a classic example of how the famous and affluent invent social mores that become common a generation or two later, and have the incomes to do so with reasonable grace - what is clear is that he kept composing for so long just because he had a younger lover to impress and amuse and express his feelings for.

Not all of the late music is great, but I have considerable affection for it; the documentary inspired me to plan a major relisten to everything...

The other thing I love about Vaughan Williams, now I come to think of it, is that he is one of the best examples I know of an artist who combined deeply held agnosticism with a passionate spirituality. It would be a huge mistake to think of him as a specifically Christian artist in spite of the fact that he had a vast influence on the forms of Anglican worship, possibly as much as his teacher Stanford; he is post-Christian as far as belief goes, a good man all about right behaviour and not, as we see above, about rules. I am not saying that it was a situation in which no party ever experienced emotional pain, just that they seem to have managed to find a way to cope.