I Heart The Glyndebournes

Because I’ve spent the last ten years and more snook-cocking on panel shows, politico-baiting on sitcoms and generally goofing about to mildly satirical effect, people seem to find it hard to process the idea that I could possibly be a committed fan of opera.  Opera, you may know, is entirely for people who have been not so much born as drawn by Gerald Scarfe; moribund, plastinated and self-congratulatory as the artform they pretend for decency’s sake to adore.  The idea that a gently lefty, toff-bothering comedian would inhabit this world seems to make people’s circuits sputter and seize up.  And the notion that I should hold an Associate Membership of Glyndebourne… The place is an espresso serving of high-class smuggery, surely?  All the clichés and stereotypes desiccated down to Oxo cube strength.

Is it? I’ve never found it so in the nigh on two decades I’ve been going.  Glyndebourne was really my way into opera.  I’d been briefly introduced to it in my teenage years by my grandmother (Viennese, escaped the Nazis, started life here as a cleaner, loved music) but it never really took.  Then in my mid-twenties I was taken to Glyndebourne by my now wife’s equally non-posh, culture vulture family.  I didn’t know what to expect, though I’d heard that somehow a picnic was involved, so I had half a notion I might encounter at least one wasp.  With that visit, Glyndebourne found a place in my bleeding pinko heart.

Let’s tick off the non-music stuff to begin.  It’s very exclusive, apparently – tickets priced so that only people who can have their not-for-best baubles couriered over to Cash4Tiaras could afford to go.  Well, not precisely.  It’s a special treat, certainly, but you can see opera at Glyndebourne more cheaply than you could U2, or Arsenal, or Michael McIntyre.  And according to my 2015 Cultural Meme Yearbook, none of those are listed alongside Henley Regatta and debilitating inbreeding as preserves of the English upper class.

Then there’s the schmutter.  Black tie.  Uniform of nobs and snobs.  You might as well wear a t-shirt that says ‘I Went To Public School And Jolly Pleased About That I Am, Too.’  Give over.  For starters, you don’t have to wear black tie. I’ve turned up open-necked in some crumpled number from the back of the wardrobe before now and not found myself hauled before the Lewes bench.  What you have to remember is that in spite of assumptions to the contrary, Glyndebourne isn’t a Society weekend, it’s a summer long festival for, essentially, an audience of excited, shambling musos. The black tie thing is dressing up.  As in for a laugh, not form’s sake.  In intent and atmosphere it’s a fancy dress party: some take the opportunity to dress like they’re going for a part in a Fred Astaire film, others bear the scars of fighting back angry moths before they could get their outfit off the hanger, still others dress in what can only be described as A Series of Interesting Decisions.  Besides, there’s that picnic in the 90-minute interval. You can’t be in Britain, the land of irony, and consider yourself as anything other than slightly ludicrous when sat in cocktail get-up, snarfing scotch eggs out of a Sainsbury’s bag.

But that stuff’s all just reflections on the surface; the music’s the thing. That’s why 100,000 people a year make the trip.  You could make a strong argument to say that Glyndebourne is the best place in the world to see opera.  The auditorium itself is not showy or grand, it’s modern, simple, designed with sound in mind and small enough to be intimate. From above you can also see nicely into the orchestra pit, if that’s your thing. (It’s certainly mine.  La Cenerentola a couple of years back was one of the best things I’ve seen there, but you’d have had a superb time simply watching James Gaffigan conducting.)

There’s an energy about the place.  Partly, I think, because Glyndebourne seems to pride itself on populating its clever, thoughtful productions with brilliant singers who are on their way up, rather than grand old stars of the scene.  Inevitably that transforms the atmosphere.  There’s more vim on that stage than your nan keeps under her sink. (One for the teenagers, there.)  And partly, it’s the audience.  I’ve learned over 20 years of touring that what makes a performer better is an engaged crowd.  That Glyndebourne muso audience is excited to be there; they’re in it with the performers and you can feel that.

Glyndebourne is the politest of carnivals outside and a thrilling whirl of incredible musicianship inside. You can’t beat it.

That’s my experience, at any rate.  You should go.  See what yours is.

I’m Furious About You Being Furious About The Thing You’re Furious About

Watching social media more or less incessantly as I have been over the last few days – instead of working or feeding my children or acknowledging brief but important everyday moments of physical affection from my partner – I’ve seen, as you surely have, that everyone is furious about a thing.  This thing really has got goats and stuck in craws in every corner of the globe. It’s been trending for days and hardly anyone’s feed is free of comment on the subject.  Politicians and celebrities have weighed in with their opinions, and seventy-four badly-realised parody accounts based on this thing were registered by midnight Pacific Time last night.

But ask yourself this: why? Why are they furious about this thing when there is another thing that I believe they should be much more furious about?  The thing that I believe they should be furious about is so much more important and impressive than the thing that they are actually furious about.  And that makes me furious.  Because the fact that they are furious at all demonstrates that they have the capacity within themselves to be furious. So why – I repeat: why – aren’t they furious about the thing I think they should be?

You see, the thing that I’m furious about can demonstrably be shown to affect more people in a more fundamental way than the one that they’re furious about.  And that completely negates anyone’s right to react angrily to any other subject than the one I’m talking about.  We cannot as a civilisation – dammit, as a species – allow ourselves to react furiously to anything at all if we haven’t first publicly reacted with the correct degree of furiousness to all of the things that are more important. We must order our fury. I believe that for the avoidance of doubt, the UN should draw up a comprehensive list of fury-inducing subjects in absolute order of importance. And I think they should ask me to head that up. And thereafter, any comment made by anyone on any topic whatsoever, if it is critical or furious, satirical or withering in nature, must be preceded by comments about all the other more important topics in order.

I think this is only decent and right.

But until that time, whenever fury is demonstrated on subjects that aren’t important enough,I shall just have to wearily make my opinions known on social media in such a way that everyone knows that what I’m talking about is the most important thing and then come to the realisation that they are worthless boobs and I am best.

The Quintennial “Go And Vote!” Post

I post a version of this every single General Election.  Here it is again.  I believe in it even more today than when I first posted it:

I believe in voting.  I strongly believe in that as a civic duty, a moral imperative and a really good way to swing a bit of time off work.  I also do not believe that it’s not worth voting, as has become the mantra this time round; that somehow not voting is better, that it’s refusing to engage in the politicians’ game and in some way giving them a bloody nose.  It’s really, really not.  It has precisely the opposite effect.

Democracy is precious and not as common as we might like to imagine. Our system – First Past The Post – is an idiotic, morally indefensible farce; it’s like a starter democracy. It’s a Fisher Price ‘My First Democracy’.  But even so, there are people in less enlightened parts of the world who would die for a democratic system as stupidly imperfect as ours. It’s a privilege to have a vote, even if it is a basic human right, so we should all use it. You don’t want to vote for anyone? Fine – go out and spoil your ballot paper, they count those. They don’t count people sat on their thud in front of Loose Women.  Pundits can point to low turnout and say that politics is failing to engage the public, but that’s such a nebulous, easily-spinnable statement. What happens is the politicians make sympathetic noises, do vague mea culpas with Diana eyes and then carry on.

I sincerely believe we need to change at the very least our ballot papers, so that they contain a ‘Re-Open Nominations’ box. We need to show that we’re protesting.  But until that point comes, the very least we can do, is go to the ballot box and spoil our votes.

BUT!  I don’t really believe in spoiling your ballot, either.  That is an act of last resort.  I believe that you need to have some active say in who governs you, if only to try to keep the people you’d least like to see in charge out.

More than that, it’s the sections of society who don’t vote who get shafted by the government. The reason they pay so much attention to pensioners is that they will get off their arses (which is harder for them than other sections of society) and go and make their voices heard. Young people?  Not so bothered, so get a worse deal.  Not voting because you don’t think those in power care for people like you is an utterly-self-defeating, self-fulfilling prophecy.  It’s a cycle we need to break.

Travelling up to Edinburgh by train a few years ago, I met an American politics teacher. She taught in a high school. She told me that after the 2004 presidential election, she asked her senior class – most of whom had reached voting age – who had voted. The names of those who had went up on the blackboard and stayed there for the rest of the semester. Whenever she asked a question which involved asking someone’s opinion, she would check whether the person with their hand up was on the list. If not, she told them they’d forfeited their right to have a say. That’s pretty much how I feel about it – you don’t vote, you don’t get to complain about what happens afterwards.

So, vote. Whatever else you do, vote.

Back in 2006 I wrote a book of modern cautionary verse, The very first one I wrote (and the thing that made me pitch the book at publishers) was the tale of a man who didn’t vote. By way of light relief at the end of this pompous screed, here it is:

Ray, Who Refused To Vote (And Lost Everything)

There upon his sagging couch,

Lazy Raymond – sloven, slouch

And dullard – whiles away his time

And checks his fingernails for grime,

Or picks his nose and – lacking charm –

Wipes snot all down the sofa’s arm.

He’ll stir his stumps to eat or piss;

Beyond such things, his motto’s this:

“As sure as my name’s Lazy Ray,

This couch is where I’m going to stay.”

Now, polling morning came to dawn.

The beercans out on Ray’s front lawn

Were glinting in the morning shine,

As up the path at half past nine

A canvasser – one Seymour Trout –

Approached, to Get The Voter Out.

Reluctant Ray came to his door;

Said he: “The whole thing’s such a bore.

Since none of you lot speak to me,

My party shall be Apathy.”

Thus disappointed, Trout withdrew.

Ray shut the door and went to stew

Upon his couch. He squeezed a spot

And flicked the pus into a pot.

He never went that day to vote.

(The chances always were remote.)

Nor did he see this come to pass:

A man he thought an utter ass

Was voted in to Number Ten

Before Ray went to bed again.

For he, alas, was not alone;

Ten million apathetic clones

Chose also to ignore the Poll.

The voter shortfall took its toll.

Next day – too late – they realised

That now a man whom they despised

Had won, whilst they, slumped in their chairs,

Had idly groomed their nasal hairs.

Yet none of them would take the blame

Or feel the smallest twinge of shame.

The weeks drew on, moons waxed and waned,

And with the mandate he’d obtained

The gentleman in Downing Street,

Who’d found his governmental feet,

Decided to enact a bill

The Opposition couldn’t kill:

Messy gardens, snotty couches,

Dullards, slovens, slatterns, slouches –

All of them would now be taxed.

More weeks drew on, moons waned and waxed.

The bill was law, fait accompli,

Ray and his clones had failed to see

They’d score this terrible own goal

The day they chose to snub the Poll.

Though Raymond and the rest were skint,

The Government had hearts of flint

And bailiffs came, in lieu of pay

To cart poor Raymond’s couch away.

He sighed and said, “Still, there’s no law

To stop me sitting on the floor.”

But Raymond’s floor was cold and hard

And Raymond’s arse was largely lard

And after sitting in this style

A time, the lad developed piles.

So now he stands all day instead

(The bailiffs also took his bed)

And spends his time – with still less charm –

In wiping snot down his own arm,

And with sore feet, accepts this fact:

It’s all his fault – he failed to act.

And so, dear child, as Seymour Trout

Would doubtless say, were he about,

Whatever be your party’s hue –

Green, Purple, Yellow, Red or Blue –

At each election get your coat

And put it on and go and vote.

Veep – ‘Hostages’ Trailer

Here’s the trailer for the episode of Veep that goes out tonight on HBO at 10pm ET.  It was written by the brilliant Sean Gray and features Isaiah Whitlock (The Wire‘s Senator Clay Davis).  It’s the second of the three that I directed and is also the coldest I have ever been in my life.

p.s. There’s still no firm date for this series to go out in the UK.  Should be this summer, though.