As I look back on 2017 I am struck by how stressful it was. I’ve spent a lot of the year with the stupidity that is Brexit foremost in my mind. That’s no exaggeration: it’s unbelievable to me that we would march forward glorifying an unplanned, ignorant national embarrassment of a policy based on lies and prejudices. Someone recently defended the protective bubbles that some people construct for themselves. Yes, it is people’s right not to be interested in politics; not to know the name of the prime minister; to believe that the moon is made of green cheese but that right does not extend to making far-reaching, irretrievable decisions that will adversely affect other people, whole generations, when they perceive themselves not to be affected and to wave away the cautionary advice of people who know what they’re talking about.
Brexit is idiocy. There is nothing good about it and it is likely to end in catastrophe for this country. I can’t help feeling that those who believe in it, or voted for are malevolent and/or ignorant and lazy in their devoted adherence to the falsehoods woven by media and successive governments who have preferred to spin the EU as a scapegoat for the problems of this country rather than address and take responsibility for their own difficult truths. A handy and comprehensive guide to some of the Euromyths is here.
It’s really not about party politics. I have managed to rub along quite successfully with people of widely different political opinions. Rather, it’s a mindset. In the case of Brexit it’s usually some deep-seated xenophobia; some hearking back to the days of Empire, to a past golden age that only really existed for a minority. It is British exceptionalism in all of its anti-rational, anti-intellectual, lazy, privileged glory. I find it hard to respect people who have betrayed their innermost thoughts of this ilk.
In some cases, such as in the case of family, one is forced to say nothing and betray oneself to keep the peace. Those who spout such ridiculousness rarely seem troubled by any obligations to the truth, though. Have you noticed that? Everyone stays nice; no-one talks through difficult subjects; the elephant stays in the corner but one’s view of people is sullied forever. This year, however, I have found the courage to speak up with facts against lies and stupidity and I’m afraid that this has led me to lose some long-standing friends. I’ve stopped following some people and been dropped by others so there’s a sort of justice to this really. When you find you have little in common and your interactions cause you only extra ag then what’s the point of carrying on? Life’s too short. Yes, it’s better that you’re no longer under any illusion that people you believed would support you will actually stab you in the back given the first opportunity, but losing decades-old friendship is still overwhelmingly sad. Conversely there are a couple of truly lovely people with whom I have strengthened my friendship in the last year. They know who they are. Thank you. x
The rebarbative tangerine manbaby over the water is unremittingly vile and it seems that his whole animus is spiteing his predecessor but he is someone else’s problem, largely, and he can be voted out in three years. Not so with Brexit: an advisory binary referendum with no inbuilt requirement of a supermajority usually required for such overwhelming constitutional change won on the basis of outright lies and falsehoods which has succeeded in dividing our nation in a way I cannot recall ever seeing before. If you voted Leave on the basis that more money would go to the NHS ask yourself: do you really see that happening?
More positively this year has me take up running again. I managed to run for 40 minutes without stopping back in the spring and did my first 5K Parkrun in April. I haven’t done this many times since, though trying to run three times ever week has been very good for my health and shape, especially since the summer. It’s a goal of mine to be able to run 5km non-stop as a matter of course again soon. I have managed, however, to take part in 20 Parkruns (well actually 21, but I forgot my barcode a few weeks ago.) John ran his 100th park run a few weeks ago, which was quite a milestone. I’m hoping to reach 50 park runs by the end of 2018 but I’m not quite sure how achievable that target is.
I sang in the Bromley Festival in March and won some medals and cups. Sadly most of the prizes were awarded to me because I was the only participant in the category, but the Rose Bowl for the best performance was something to be proud of. This meant that I was invited to sing in a winners’ concert in the summer. I was last to perform after about 2,000 precocious children, in the presence of the Mayor and the MP for Bromley and their consorts, who all did a great job at keeping up their interested faces throughout the whole three hours. My nerves did get the better of me and it was an underwhelming performance but that’s the way it goes sometimes.
It’s been quite a year for singing, though. Singing the St. Matthew Passion on Good Friday was a special experience and then Carmina Burana with Alleyn’s at St John’s Smith Square was joyful. We’ve also sung the wonderful Brahms German Requiem a couple more times and found time for the Rutter Requiem and some of the Tippett Child of our Time spirituals as well as our roof-raising Christmas carol concert. Imagine our choir including several of us 1st sopranos belting out the descant; a full congregation; the BYCB and the band of the Royal Engineers and the church organ at full pelt in Hark the Herald Angels. An avalanche of sound. It was truly memorable.
Looking forward: the Dulwich Foundation Schools are singing a joint concert of the Britten War Requiem at the Royal Festival Hall in February. I’m not an immediate fan of Britten – he tends to grow on me eventually – but this should be quite a spectacle. The BYMT Adult Choir will be performing the Mozart Requiem, my very favourite choral piece, in Beckenham on Maundy Thursday.
Perhaps my most hard-fought achievement this year was finally securing a decent pass grade in my ATCL Singing Performance Diploma. I think various factors including a touch of asthma and inevitable nerves conspired to make some of my performances not quite as good as they could have been but overall I’m pleased with the pass. When you take into account the previous failed exam it’s four years of work all in all. I’ve had to rethink my breathing technique radically and I finally cracked it some time in the spring, which was incredibly satisfying.
In other news, James has had a great season of gigs as President of the McGill University Fight Band. I’ll take him to the airport on Friday so that he can start his final semester there. Graduating hopefully in the spring, he’s looking forward to getting on with the next stage of his life in a more structured environment. Not everyone enjoys student life and he just wants to get in with things now.
Eliza passed her driving test in August after a mammoth 70 minutes where she and her examiner were caught up in traffic following an accident on her test route. She was being assessed for the whole time and managed to keep her cool. This new independence of hers has been massively helpful as we no longer have mumtaxi or dadtaxi duties most of the time and it’s a taste of what’s to come later in the year.
After having her Specific Educational Needs diagnosed and assessed, Eliza has been trying to learn new ways of working towards her all-important exams and, after some experimentation that did not really help her much in important exams, finally has full access arrangements in place for her mocks and then her A levels. As I write, she’s had offers from three universities but is waiting for her first choice application to do Classical Studies.
She’s had an incredibly busy year with her music and dance commitments, and her short Medea film was a runner up in a national competition run by the University of Cambridge. If you haven’t seen it yet, or even if you have, here it is:
So, finally, to the main focus of this year, the huge cloud that’s been looming for the last couple of years. All being well, John will be moving to take up a position in Hong Kong in the summer. This is a great move for him and, though planned before the Brexit vote, it’s a good way to sidestep all of the Brexit uncertainty in a dynamic and wholly different cultural environment.
For me, however, I can’t see much of an upside. Yes, Hong Kong is exciting and interesting and I’ll be able to travel and learn to take better pictures but it means leaving behind my whole life: my choir, my friends, my voluntary stuff, my home and gorgeous kitchen. With the very best case scenario, we would have a two or three bedroom house with a little enclosed garden and plenty of beaches and country parks to walk the dogs, for Oscar to see out his final years. I expect I can find a choir to join, maybe I could even take up the piano again. However, expatriate lives and contracts have changed hugely since twenty or thirty years ago and, judging by my experience even 12 years ago when we moved to Paris, I’m not at all optimistic that we’ll be able to maintain even our current standard of living when we move there. It means starting all over again in someone else’s property without the social networks of school, and it’s difficult to do in your 50s. And it means being thousands of miles away from my children – my favourite people – and hardly seeing them at all. It’s simply not fair to ask them to come all the way to Hong Kong and leave their friends at every vacation time. Of course, the nest would have emptied itself in any case but this seems like a particularly brutal way of doing it. Hong Kong is warm, I suppose.
It wouldn’t feel so bad if I knew it was a finite contract for three years before returning home but we are entirely at the mercy of what happens with Brexit. Speculating wildly, it seems inconceivable that Europe’s biggest bank would want to keep thousands of employees in London after EU passporting arrangements are lost, as everyone predicted would happen. People called us Project Fear and people I know have blithely waved this away saying that it wouldn’t happen – that someone would somehow sort it out – but here we are. Will it be Paris, or Frankfurt or Lisbon or Dublin after Hong Kong? Who knows? It seems most unlikely to be Beckenham.
I suppose I prefer to to see myself as a sort of jet-setting bird flying between London, Hong Kong and Mumbai. My choir – my lovely friends – is planning to sing the Beethoven’s 9th in May 2019, yes really, and Bach’s Mass in B Minor in London and Germany and I’d love to be able to join them but I’m not sure how feasible that’s going to be.
The thing is that no-one knows for certain and uncertainty is going to be our theme in 2018. Happy New Year.