I live in the town that I used to hate

I went out with my camera yesterday because the sun came out and I just wanted to take a walk with the camera – one of the real pleasure of modern life.

Four months after my brain haemorrhage, I am still recovering but I seem to have more moments when I am free of most of the symptoms if not the perpetual feeling of concussion.

I am really the sort of person who likes to do things quickly especially when I am having fun but giddiness, which has been one of the main characteristics of my condition, keeps stopping me in my tracks.

Yesterday, maybe because it felt like Spring or maybe just because the sun came out, I just could not resist going on a photographic walk round the beautiful and interesting town where I live.

I came home feeling dizzy, of course, but the feeling passed and, anyway, what the hell!

They are just pretty average shots of the streets a round where I live but they will give you some idea of how lucky we are, the residents of this nearly perfect town.

We have a high street full of independent shops, hordes of pubs and restaurants, we can walk into the country in five minutes and talk to people on a pretty regular basis knowing that they are not full of reactionary prejudices and, on top of it all, our buildings,including a Norman castle, go back to the 11th. Century and they are a rich record of English history.

That history began for me a bit later, when I was sixteen and I just hated the place.

My best friend from school lived here and I used to visit pretty regularly during the long summer holidays when we weren’t hanging around in the far saucier town, now city, of Brighton, just down the road.

For him, and for me, this was the most reactionary, puritanical and narrow-minded place anyone was unlucky enough to find himself.

I vowed that I would never live here.

Well, the town, rather than me, I hope, has changed.

It is now a liberal haven flavoured by its proximity to Sussex University and its easy train lines to Brighton and London and I just love it.

Just take a walk round snooping and you will see that practically every house has a piano with opened music on its stand, coffee tables stacked with books and broadsheet newspapers with posters for local chamber music concerts in their windows – the scruffiness liberal-minded intelligence.

Are those reactionaries still here I wonder? Hiding behind trees when I walk by, waiting to spoil my fun? I don’t think so. Thank you Grim Reaper because I do believe you have taken them all to Hell. Woops, sorry about that, I am sure they are somewhere much more respectable and much less entertaining.

Well, in so many ways, my adult history began here.

I bought my first packet of cigarettes in the intoxicating tobacconist shop on the High Street, I became addicted to coffee too in an atmospheric wooden paneled tearooms full of shining brass and the smell of furniture wax. Also, to my shame, well maybe not, here on a memorable fireworks night, I also got uncontrollably drunk for the first time. It became less memorable after I woke up in a shop doorway with only the haziest of ideas about how I got there.

This was also the town, a couple of years later, where I learnt that making what I considered witty remarks to Irish merchant sailors, when they have been drinking, can end in a beating up.

Well, I have grown up since then – I have given up smoking and I avoid drunken sailors.

It was here too that I converted my school friend to the genius of Verdi’s operas and where he failed to turn me on to Gilbert and Sullivan. We argued, as you do, about which was the best. He championed Rigoletto, I argued for La Traviata. Maybe, I was weird – probably but, even now, I think I own La Traviata and still love the whole canon of Verdi’s work.

It will come as no surprize then to anyone who knows the show that Frazier is my favourite television comedy with its brilliant portrayal of those two culture vulture brothers, Frazier and Niles Crane.

If they ever want to visit, they would find a warm welcome here.

My school friend’s father, long dead, still haunts this place with his rants against foreigners, liberal ideas and the ludicrous impracticality of even thinking of spending your life working in the arts.

He would be so unhappy here now and that, in a nutshell, is exactly why I love it so much.


  1. "Rigoletto" is for when you are feeling angry and vindictive; "La Traviata" is for when you are feeling sad or romantic – or both! Surely the best of the Verdi catalogue has to be "Falstaff" – so life-affirming, and feeling like the work of a young man rather than a valedictory piece.

    I loved Gilbert & Sullivan as a youngster and then went off it is an adult. But as I've aged, I've returned occasionally to Gilbert & Sullivan – and loved it. Knowing "O don fatale" makes you realise what a perfect piss-take Josephine's second act number in "HMS Pinafore" is.

    Gilbert & Sullivan versus Wagner – no, they are different.

    "Frasier" is ace – it is one of the few bits of TV I miss – along with "West Wing" and "Friends". And "The Simpsons"

  2. Thanks Claudio, we missed you on Mardi Gras night!

    I have a real difficulty naming the best Verdi opera.

    I guess, if I have to, it is Don Carlos which has so many fantastically drawn characters, a gripping dramatic line and some of Verdi's most sublime music.

    I want to die like Roderigo – well singing that aria if I have to die at all.

    As a trivial aside, I also had a good soprano friend who took up smoking in an ill-advised attempt to sing O don fatale. It did seem to work….she sang Carmen too…the ultimate smokers' heroine.

    Falstaff, sorry about this, I have seen a number of times and listen to a lot but there is something about it that I have never taken to….something withered it seems to me maybe I am not yet ready for all that sunset stuff.

    I am never really turned on by Aida either except for the big arias and the last scene.

    I am pretty board by the "big scenes" with all those chorus members hamming it up in mini-skirts and feathery hats – and that is just the men.

    Glyndebourne are doing a new production of Falstaff this year – it might convert me, who knows.

    I too have grown to appreciate G & S…partcularly G who is genuinely still funny after all these years unlike so many other Victorian comedians. I do like the Italian opera pastiches too but really can't be bothered with Sullivan's "serious" music..

    It was the teenage me that needed to define what was best though…in anything….I think I gave that up years ago.

    Along with quite a lot of brain cells no doubt.

  3. For board read bored, by the way!

    Also, I am so pleased you are a Frazier fan….I am genuinely hooked I am afraid and, since being ill, it is the only show I have been able to watch.

  4. Didn't get here yesterday, and I'm glad I waited. Today I'm snowbound and that tour of your town was just the thing. Yes, to the extent that I believe in heaven and hell at all (I don't) I prefer the Man & Superman model, where hell is where all the cool people go and heaven is a crashing bore of a place where people only go because they think they ought to.

    If you miss Friends, Claudio, come to the US, where it can be found in reruns almost 24 hours a day. Not so much Frasier, strangely and unfortunately in my view.

  5. I can’t believe that the U.S. doesn’t show Frazier on all the channels all of the time.

    How do people get through the week without those brothers and, of course Eddie, the dog? (BTW, if any of you are tempted to draw my attention to the differences over the 10 years between the early Eddie and the later one, please don’t or I will cry).

    I am really pleased to have given you a tour round my town Anatole.

    I really enjoyed our coffees in that cafe on the High Street.

    You must come more often.

    Totally agree of course over Heaven and Hell…I hope your Hell freezes over so that you can have loads of relaxation time at home.

    Here is is mild and sunny and my solitary daffodil has company.

  6. Man & Superman – John Tanner?

    My god – there are still people who read out there?

    I saw Man & Superman years ago – and "Don Juan in Hell" was performed as a late night show. Shaw may have his strong points, but I'm not sure brevity is one of them!

  7. I don’t always go for short pleasures Claudio!

    Maybe we are getting back to Shaw in Britain….there have been quite a few new productions in recent years where I thought he stood up very well.

    He and Wilde were corner stones to me at school…I have always enjoyed Major Barbara, saw a production last year at the Orange Tree in Richmond and thought Shaw was saying so much that was still relevant for us today. For a polemicist, he can be surprisingly ambiguous I think.

    I have real affection for Saint Joan too….especially after offering the World my Bluebeard in a school production!

    Gone and mercifully forgotten.

  8. Would love to have seen your Bluebeard, Wolf! Speaking of cornerstones, Shaw is perhaps the most important of mine if we ignore music for a moment. Nothing liberates the mind like a half-hour of his company….well, yes, ok Claudio, three and a half hours, but three and a half hours couldn’t be better spent.

    I think Heartbreak House is my very favorite play, all of Shakespeare included (he says, ducking).

  9. Wow Anatole!

    Heartbreak House your favourite play even including Shakespeare…well, to my shame, I have never read or seen it. I do have a copy though so I am now too intrigued not to read it.

    As you are a dedicated Shavian, I am quite pleased you never saw my Bluebeard. Although, I have to say, it was, people still say, quite memorable!

    It was actually the best production from my school days by quite a distance. We were all inspired in that special way that comes less often in adult life.

    That is not to say that I haven’t felt like that since….I put those feelings into a jar which I still open from time to time.

  10. Not a play I know either. The title must make it box office poison.

    I much prefer “Pygmalion” to “My Fair Lady” – Shaw’s ambiguous endings are much better. In “Mrs warren’s Profession” I can’t decide who is the most irritating character – male or female!
    My favourite play would have to be Shakespeare – “Much Ado About Nothing” with “Twelfth Night” running it a close second. Ambiguity again – is a theme starting?

  11. It is so difficult this business of favourite things…..I try not to emulate Julie Andrews in the cursed Sound of music! I know what I would bind up in string!

    Totally agree with you over Pygmalion, Claudio especially as I got into trouble as a young child when I came into the house singing All I want Is Room Somewhere in what I thought was a broad cockney accent. I was told off very severely by my mother who said: “If you can’t sing properly then don’t sing at all”

    She was right of course, as a general principal but I think she missed the point with My Fair Lady.

    I hasten to add that I had heard it on the radio and had no knowledge of the movie or the stage show – I promise!

    I don’t think I am going to go down the Shakespeare route….oh I don’t know……

    Lear, Hamlet, Twelfth Night and A Winter’s Tale probably…..but then again……oh it is impossible I think.

    I will always love The Importance of Being Earnest….I cannot believe that it still makes me laugh every time.

    And I do get decidedly hot under the collar and elsewhere for Tennessee Williams’ plays.

    Lets hear it for Marlowe too….and, of course Beckett and Pinter.

    Maybe I am just a stage door Johnnie! I just can’t choose a favourite so I go out with whoever steps through that stage door.

    Any way, Heartbreak House is next on my list – has anyone made a musical from it?

  12. Heaven forbid…although in the right hands it could make an interesting opera.

    Notice I said "favorite" rather than "best," which is quite different. For example, The Merry Wives of Windsor is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays even though it's really not very good. It just delights me anyway. (I do, however, truly believe that Heartbreak House is one of the greats.) I agree with you both about Pygmalion; also one of the greats and rarely seen anymore thanks to the Messrs. Lerner & Lowe. Earnest too. My favorite play from the past decade is probably Tom Stoppard's Arcadia.

  13. If we are talking about favourite – and not best – modern play, I go totally populist: Ayckbourn’s “Absurd Person Singular” (although sometimes I think “Season’s Greetings” – they are both heartless comedies about disastrous Christmas with families and / or friends falling apart.

    I didn’t choose my favourite play of the last decade – because neither did Anatole – I think “Arcadia” is from the early 1990’s. But doesn’t time fly when you are having fun.

  14. Arcadia is truly wonderful, agreed…it will definitely survive into posterity I think. We had a fantastic production here at the National Theatre.

    I did notice your distinction between favourite and best – it still makes me yearn to read the Shaw. Over the last year or so we have been on a bit of a roll with productions of a lot of the Shaw plays and some really interesting stuff by some of his contemporaries.

    The last play I went to before I was “struck down” was Granville Barker’s Waste, in its 1920s revision. What an interesting piece, obviously inspired or at least influenced by the great man, but full of its own ideas.

    I was going to quote from it but my brain damage has sent it right out of my head….grrrrrrr!

    Anyway, I thought it was interesting and I am sure you know what that quote is tot.

  15. Absurd Person Singular is very funny..and wonderfully spiteful, I agree.

    I always think he is more substantial a writer than he is given credit for..but what do I know!

    How mean to challenge Anatole over a matter of a few years!

    You are obviously, Claudio, a considerable force on this site….long may you post your thoughts.

  16. Wow, Claudio, really? Now that’s frightening. Maybe I only read it in the past decade, although that’s also probably not true. Oh well. No other favorites since. Ayckbourn is fun, and much more cruel than Pinter, Beckett et al.

  17. Now, please either Anatole or Claudio, do either of you know Waste?

    The search through my damaged brain for that quote is driving me crazy!

    I used to have a copy of it but my study is in total chaos and I don’t know where to start looking.

    It means I have found Heartbreak House though!

    What should I do to distract myself? Oh yes, I suppose you are right!

  18. One of my big regrets is that I missed the RSC’s “Waste” in the 1980’s with the Great Dame as Amy – a friend who saw it said it was an incredibly modern play. It’s odd how some old pieces retain their freshness – and can make contemporary pieces look dated.

    “An Ideal Husband” seems so much more modern than many modern satires – perhaps reflecting the fact that so little has changed in the world of money and politics.

  19. Well that is my memory of Waste – it was amazing to me that Granville Barker could write a piece superficially about the Disestablishment of the Church of England bu a Conservative government and yet grab us today with a ;piece about a man od liberal consience fighting to do some good within a world of political cynicism.

    I saw the recent production at the Almeida which quite uncomlicatedly caught the spirit of the piece.

    I also saw Barker’s The Madras House about a year ago…another piece which would stand up well today with our current love affair with bankers.

  20. Sorry, I don’t know Waste. Must read it now, though. I do know The Voysey Inheritance. I’ll never forgive Barker’s second wife for making him give up the theatre and become an academic.

    I love An Ideal Husband. Plot’s a bit creaky but what wonderful characters. You’re right, it’s amazing how something so topical can become timeless in the right hands.

  21. An Ideal Husband does work really well on the stage, we had a good production here in London a few years ago and it held its place impressively where some of Wilde’s lesser lays can definitely creak.

    I didn’t know that Barker was guided into academia by his wife.

    I wonder how many future playwrights have gone that way when their future should be back behind those lime lights.

  22. Wolfie – I think the Waste quote you are referring to comes towards the end of the play when Trebell’s sister suggests his dream of disestablishing the church of england has fallen apart.

    She says: The best of it did seem to be too good to be true

    He says: If I were God that’s the one blasphemy I’d not forgive.

    A brilliant piece of writing from HGB – probably the most influencial English theatre person of the first half of the 20th century…

    I think Shaw is definitely back in vogue – I’m pretty sure the Royal Exchange in Manchester are about to do Widower’s House.

    Also. . . If you want a play that combines a bit of ‘Importance of Being Ernest’ with Shaw I recommend one of Shaw’s first, ‘The Philanderer’, it has Wilde’s wit with Shaw’s depth and a great piss take out of Ibsen lovers!

  23. Mercredi, thanks so much..I have been struggling with this ever since the thought escaped me as I was writing it last night.

    Don’t know how you guessed which one but you are absolutely right.

    I find it so life affirming, so moving actually, that idea that “too good to be true” is the most unforgivable of blasphemies.

    Also I can see that I am going to have to begin an obsessive Shaw reading project.

    No pain there, I think.

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