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Gosh. I would appear to have some free time. Nominally, I'm at Warwick doing essay returns. But since I only have 11 people to see today, as opposed to the fearsome 35 I got through yesterday, there are a lot of gaps in the day when I can do other things. And I've actually run out of minor administrative tasks to perform, so that means I can write on LJ - yay!

What I'm going to do here is give quick accounts of some of the things I would have blogged over the last couple of months, if I'd had the time to do so. They probably won't get the same level of detail as they'd have had if I'd written them up at the time. But at least this way they won't be completely forgotten.

18th March - celebratory meal at Gee's. While I couldn't claim to have conducted a scientific survey, Gee's has to be a strong contender for the joint titles of a) Best and b) Most Expensive restaurant in Oxford. So when my parents offered to take me out for dinner wherever I wanted to celebrate getting my job in Leeds, it was naturally my first choice!

And I wasn't wrong in making it either. The setting is beautiful enough: the whole restaurant is set into a Victorian conservatory. But, more importantly, the meal was one of those I think I'll never forget as long as I live. Best of all was the starter (vegetarians and animal rights activists look away now!) - foie gras on a slice of brioche bread, with a fig on top. And I don't mean pate de foie gras there. I mean an actual slice of fat, distended goose liver, cooked to absolute perfection - on the outside richly golden, on the inside pink and rare, as liver should be, to the extent that the very core of it was almost liquid. I really don't think I've ever eaten anything so deliciously flavoursome in my entire life, or so well-suited to the brioche and fig it came with. As I swallowed by last mouthful of it, I wondered if anything I'd ever eat again could possibly live up to the same standards. Oh, and for the record, I did face the reality of what I was doing by contemplating the suffering of the goose as I ate. But I'm afraid I concluded that it had been entirely worth it.

After the foie gras, whatever followed was going to seem pale in comparison, but the rest of the meal was extremely memorable too - just not quite as astonishing as the starter. Richly delicious duck, again cooked to perfection and literally falling off the bone, in a subtle but fresh and tangy orange sauce. Then lemon syllabub, and finally a Vodka Espresso cocktail. This latter really said it all about Gee's, actually. Normally, a Vodka Espresso is a chilled shot of espresso coffee, made up with Tia Maria and vodka. So, basically, iced coffee with a couple of shots chucked in to make it alcoholic. At Gee's, though, the coffee was of the best - strong and full-flavoured without being bitter - while the vodka which they had used was not just there to provide alcohol value. It added its own distinct contribution to the mix, making its presence known on the tongue as the coffee flavour faded. Clearly, they hadn't just shoved in any old vodka, but used a really good one, of the kind people might drink for its flavour in its own right.

Yep, Gee's might be expensive. But not ludicrously so - I think the bill came to something like £50 a head for the three of us. And you definitely get what you pay for.

30th March - Robin Blaze at the Wigmore Hall. Prior to this concert, I don't think I'd seen Robin Blaze live for at least 3 years. I think the last time was singing Handel's Rodelinda at the Apollo in 2003 - certainly, there are no mentions of him in this LJ since I starting writing in it regularly in April of 2004, and I'm pretty sure I would have mentioned it if I'd seen him in that time! A sad state of affairs, since he's my second-favourite countertenor (after David Cordier), so I was glad to have a chance to put that right!

Maybe it was something I'd forgotten since the last time, or maybe Blaze's technique has just grown in the intervening period, but I was struck by the power and volume of his voice. OK, so the Wigmore Hall isn't the biggest venue ever, but it's sizeable enough, and he was filling it with no problem at all. Clear, piercing, pure and flexible, but all with a light, easy feel - very much what I'd always liked about him in the first place. I did notice an occasional undertone of roughness when he sang piano or in the lower part of his range. But overall, a definite thumbs up. And it was fun to get his autograph afterwards too! I know I got it from him once before, when he was singing the B Minor mass up in Birmingham with Emma Kirkby (amongst others). But that was on a programme which I since seem to have mislaid, so this time I grabbed a CD before I left and got him to sign that instead - hopefully meaning I won't lose it this time!

1st April - 'Springtime Baroque' concert at the Sheldonian. This was a selection of Baroque chart-toppers, performed by the Oxford City Orchestra - things like 'Spring' from Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Bach's 'Air on a G-String', Handel's 'Arrival of the Queen of Sheba', etc. The orchestra aren't baroque specialists, and I was surprised by how much I noticed this. Part of it was their instruments, of course - they used modern instruments at modern pitch, meaning that the violin sound in particular was much brighter and brasher than at the Robin Blaze concert just two days before. But it was clear stylistically, too: their treatment of rhythms just wasn't as precise as I'm used to from most of the music I listen to.

Still, not a bad job, and a very enjoyable programme. The biggest surprise of the evening for me was my companion, aef, who'd suggested going in the first place, suddenly turning round to me in the interval and announcing that it was the first time he'd ever been to a live classical concert! He really enjoyed it, though, to the extent that he was keen to try out Bach's St. John Passion the following weekend. In the end, we didn't because it had sold out, but I shall remember to include him in invitations to any future classical concerts I attend before I leave Oxford.

24th April - QI recording. Of all the TV shows I could possibly wish to go and see recorded live, this one would definitely be top of the list. And, thanks to the wondrous kaz_pixie, I got to do just that! And meet a fine and fabulous bunch of her friends while I was at it.

I was in the middle of dissertation-marking at that time, so hadn't really had a chance to get excited before we got there. But once we were in the studio it all suddenly because very real! We had the usual warn-up routine they do at these things to get the audience laughing, with lots of poking fun at people in the studio. Then the guests came on: Alan Davies, obviously, plus Clive Anderson, Arthur Smith and Vic Reeves, to be precise. Very exciting, but the moment we'd all been waiting for was the entrance of His Stephenness, of course! And suddenly, there he was, bouncing in like an exuberant school-boy, pushing his fringe out of his eyes and grinning broadly at us all.

He was fabulous from start to finish - charming, engaging, self-deprecating, fervently enthusiastic, and of course startlingly, but not arrogantly, intellectual. And, as rosamicula pointed out in her own post on the subject, there was no sense that this was a facade, maintained for the sake of the cameras. That's just how he is, and how he likes to interact with people.

I can't remember much of the jokes or the subjects, now: the comments I made on my sms_to_lj post from the studio are probably a better guide to that. But I do know it was a great evening, and I look forward very much to seeing the broadcast version.

8th May - Rik Mayall in 'The New Statesman'. Thanks this time go to stompyboots for organising an outing to this at the New Theatre Oxford Apollo. It's a stage adaptation of the 80s TV series, in which the nastiest and most right-wing politician ever conceived has gone New Labour. And damn, did it work. Not the absolute most biting and original satire ever - perhaps because Blair's government has become so easy to satirise that it's all been said already - but still enormously good fun, and with plenty of topicality in it. We enjoyed screaming loudly when Mayall first made his entrance (as stompyboots rightly pointed out, Rik Mayall may not be sexy, but Alan B'Stard is!), and some of his ab-libs - although I did feel that his ribbing of a woman in the front row with an 'annoying laugh' tipped over the edge from humourous banter into prima-donnaesque gripe after a while. And who wouldn't love to see Tony Blair being locked up in a crate while an even slimier schemer takes the country over from him? Definitely recommended, and I'm very glad we went.

Well, that was a great relief! I feel a lot less weighed down by a back-log now, and more able to get on with posting about things day to day. There are still some Big Posts I need to make about things like my new job, and my book and so on. But this has definitely been a good start.

Comments

( 19 comments — Leave a comment )
captainlucy
May. 19th, 2006 12:44 pm (UTC)
I didn't even know about the New Statesman stage adaptation! I loved the original show, it just fitted in absolutely perfectly with the times - a perfect scathing satire on the Thatcherite government of the late 1980s. Updating to have Alan Beresford B'Stard as a New Labourite seems perfectly logical to me. :D
Was it a one-man show, or did he have assistance? Specifically, was Piers Fletcher-Dervish still with him, or has he gone to the Lib-Dems?
stompyboots
May. 19th, 2006 12:52 pm (UTC)
Didn't Alan kill Piers after coming back from the gulag? Or was he just so terrified that he left? I can't remember how it was resolved, but I remember there being an explanation at the end of the TV show for why Piers could never return.

B'Stard's assistant in this one was an Arthur Scargill-esque salt of the earth time, and far too moral to be his flunky! But the wife was there, as was Condoleezza Rice...

It was wonderful, and worth catching if you can make any of the tour.
strange_complex
May. 19th, 2006 01:21 pm (UTC)
It's touring the country at the mo - some dates are here, but it looks like Belfast's not on the list, I'm afraid.

Piers Fletcher-Dervish has obviously moved on to other things, although Sarah B'Stard was featured - in the process of divorcing Alan, and wringing every last penny she could out of him. Replacing Piers was Labour's last true dyed-in-the-wool socialist, forced into working for Alan and toeing his line because B'Stard had some dirt on him (dodgy share-deals). He worked very well, actually - it meant that there was still someone Alan could roundly abuse, but also someone who would gripe and complain about his evil scheming.
swisstone
May. 19th, 2006 01:37 pm (UTC)
Piers would never get up the nerve to cross the floor.
captainlucy
May. 19th, 2006 04:03 pm (UTC)
And Alan would have given him a choice? :D
huskyteer
May. 19th, 2006 01:05 pm (UTC)
The New Statesman is coming to Bromley this month. I must go! Love Rik Mayall.
strange_complex
May. 19th, 2006 01:23 pm (UTC)
Do! You'll be in for a good evening.
stompyboots
May. 19th, 2006 01:08 pm (UTC)
Foie. Oh, foie. I love it so, and have no moral qualms about eating it, because my parents live in a foie-producing area of France, and where you can still buy, for (fairly reasonable prices) artisanale foie, which is where the geese (or ducks, depending) are hand-fed, and while force fed, only twice a day; the rest of the time they run around outside like the free-range creatures they are.

The Dordogne is full of places like that, many of which supply restaurants around the world as well as their own farm and local shops. If you're at a £50-a-head restaurant, you can be fairly sure you're getting the artisanale stuff, and can eat with a clear conscience.

That is, of course, if you do as I do and ignore the fact that by eating it at all you're supporting the cheaper, factory-produced, mega-cruelty end of the industry...

It is the food of the gods, and I think I will go downstairs now and eat some of the stuff I brought back with me. *bliss*
strange_complex
May. 19th, 2006 01:26 pm (UTC)
Ooh, lucky you!

Yes, I've heard French producers saying what a great life the geese have, and how they actually run forward to be force-fed when feeding time comes around. Of course, they have a vested interest in claiming that, but still...

And I have not forgotten that I still owe you a meal for your proof-reading! Now that I am gradually emerging from the darkness, we can start planning that if you like - any time after next Monday is fine for me.
stompyboots
May. 24th, 2006 03:19 pm (UTC)
Sorry not to have replied to this earlier, but thank you for such a yummy lunch - I'm going to miss you when you're in the wilds of oop norf.

Hope Handel was as fab as you hoped!
strange_complex
May. 24th, 2006 04:21 pm (UTC)
Oh, it was! And I've come home with the spoils of a trip to Marks & Spencers with my voucher, so what could be better?

And you're welcome. :)
davesangel
May. 19th, 2006 02:30 pm (UTC)
If I ever have the good fortune to be back in Oxford, I definitely think I'll shell out and go for dinner at Gee's - the menu looks simply divine :)
strange_complex
May. 19th, 2006 05:42 pm (UTC)
It really is. And from my experience, I'd say you can rely on everything on that menu to be an absolute prefect specimen of whatever type of food it is, too. I'm seriously considering going once more before I actually leave Oxford, just for a final taste of heaven!
rosamicula
May. 19th, 2006 06:11 pm (UTC)
Hey when are you coming to London so I can take you to this

http://www.handelhouse.org/

Hmm? Hmm?
strange_complex
May. 19th, 2006 07:01 pm (UTC)
Oh, believe me - that is definitely part of my agenda for the summer! I've been plotting with my friend, redkitty23 to go, because she and I are doing a course on Handel's operas together at the moment (which is going to get its own LJ post soon), so it seemed apt. But I'm sure you and she would like each other, so we can certainly make it a joint outing.

I'm also planning a general weekend in London soon, catching up with as many folks as I can, but giving top priority to my sister, whom I haven't seen since Christmas. :( Which weekend it is will depend on what suits her, and it's looking like it won't be any of the next three anyway. But whenever it is, I'm very much hoping I can spend some time with you.
libellum
May. 26th, 2006 12:58 am (UTC)
In unrelated news, we HAVE TO GO TO THIS CLUB.
strange_complex
May. 26th, 2006 08:37 am (UTC)
Oh, wow - it is carved out of the Monte Testaccio! How cool is that? I know exactly where it is, as well, as I've been there taking photos of the hill and noticed there was a bar built into it. We are there!
libellum
May. 26th, 2006 08:41 am (UTC)
Yays! I must remember to pack beautiful gothery!

ps. did I reply to your Moreschi email? I am confused and deadline-addled. If I didn't then yes of course, we will do that, and I find your fangirling strangely adorable :)
strange_complex
May. 26th, 2006 08:44 am (UTC)
No you didn't, but I entirely understand why! And yay for you agreeing - I shall need you to photograph me sitting where he sat. ;)
( 19 comments — Leave a comment )

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