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July 27th, 2016

09:53 pm: Into the sixth circle...
My bus was very late this afternoon and although it started going back along its usual route, it doubled back on itself and went through Heavitree after it had picked up everyone from the regular stops. I couldn't understand why until we got the top of the hill, when the main road meets Barrack Road, where there was a distinct smell of burning in the air. I got off the bus at Waitrose and walked back down Portland Street where, about halfway down, I got my first look at the centre, which was mired in the most enormous pall of smoke.

As I got closer to home, I discovered a lot of the roads were closed off with police tape — luckily mine was still open — there was a constant sound of fire alarms from the student halls, and there were 10-12 fire engines parked up on the roundabout that links Sidwell Street, Weston Way and Blackboy Road. There was a thick pall over everything and the world stank like the city was on fire.

Checking the local news, I discovered that a fire had broken out at Richer Sounds in the early afternoon and they fire crews were still trying to get it under control. The smoke continued to hang over everything until late evening, but it seems to have stopped now, even if everything does still smell like the sixth circle of the Inferno...

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July 25th, 2016

09:24 pm: Record Review in Liverpool
This weekends episode of Record Review featured a really interesting piece on Priory Records' recording session at Liverpool Cathedral. There was a lot of interseting stuff in the program about the recording process and the selection of pieces, but they obviously had far too much material because their website features an extended version of Andrew McGregor's discussion with David Poulter as the latter shows off the capabilities of the huge cathedral organ.

Which made me think of this video — a trail for one of Priory's DVDs — in which Ian Tracey, Poulter's predecessor and now organist titulaire, provides a similar demonstration of the instrument's capabilities:



It's fascinating to see the way an organist builds up and layers stops to get the sound they want and the way that they can build from something that's almost completely inaudible to a huge, building-rattling sound on full organ.

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July 24th, 2016

09:56 pm: Lindberg and Beethoven
Better programming today, with the world premier of Magnus Lindberg's Two Episodes opening this evening's prom. The orchestral writing was characteristic of Lindberg, creating an open and approachable sound world with definite echoes of the second piece in the concert: Beethoven's 9th Symphony.

The Beethoven was somewhat idiosyncratic, with Jurowsky and LPO emphasising some elements more than others — the winds in the last movement holding their own against the the strings in the early parts of the last movement — and there were some interesting tempo choices. It all seemed to work and made the old warhorse seem fresher than it usually does.

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08:50 pm: Nightshades
Vampire myth meets the X-File today with Melissa F. Olson's Nightshades. A relatively short piece, the story focuses on Alex McKenna, son of a former FBI director, as he takes up a post as Special Agent-in-Charge of the Bureau's paranormal wing in the aftermath of a disastrous massacre.

The scene is set with a short prologue. SA Gabriel Ruiz is on a stakeout in the small town of Heavenly, Illinois. The situation is tense: a number of teens have been abducted, the BPI have lost four agents in the field, and the entire Chicago team have descended on Heavenly to deal with the problem. A few hours in, the situation degenerates and the agents are picked off one by one. Gabriel Ruiz, the last man standing, finds himself alone in a corn field with a terrifying, knife-wielding shade who introduces herself as Gabrielle.

A day or two later, Alex McKenna finds himself interviewing for the job of new SAC of the Chicago BPI. His Deputy Director needs someone who can hit the ground running and decides that Alex is her man. With the help of Chase Eddy, Alex's fellow agent and best friend, the pair pay a call on Ambrose, the only shade who has successfully been brought into custody and who has since spent his time baffling his inquisitors in best Hannibal Lector style. Alex surprises a revelation out of Ambrose: the name of a shade who might be willing to help. With a bit of planning, Alex makes contact with Rosalind Fredrick and convinces her to join his new team as a consultant.

With Lindy's help, Alex and his team learn a great deal about their enemy. Lindy immediately recognises Giselle's handywork — categorising her not much more than a psychotic murderer, albeit one who is extremely dangerous and superhumanly fast — and comes through with the name of their ultimate antagonist. She also provides a great deal of background on shades themselves — they're very similar to vampires — but is at a loss to explain why they might have suddenly put aside the lurking strategy which has served them so well over the centuries in favour of direct confrontation with the authorities.

Nightshades isn't a complete entity, but more the start of something interesting. There's a certain amount of infodumpage required to get things running — similarly, Alex's breakthrough with Ambrose — but once things are going, it feels like an intriguing world with plenty of background. I particularly liked the rigour of the methods used to contain the world's only captive vampire and I liked the dark hints about Alex' past and that of his mother.

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11:20 am: Wagner and Tippett?
Slightly odd programming in yesterday's prom: a huge bleeding chunk of Wagner in the form of Act 3 from Die Walküre followed by the entirety of Michael Tippett's A Child of Our Time. I'm not sure the combination worked. Neither piece seemed to add much to the other and they don't seem to have a great deal in common. Still it was good to hear A Child of Our Time again. For all the awkwardness of the text, it still feels like it has a great deal of beautiful music to offer.

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July 23rd, 2016

11:05 pm: A barbecue and birthday party
Very nice party and barbecue at D&P's place for P's birthday. I'd forgotten to mention my dietary oddities until this morning — it had completely slipped my mind — and I felt rather guilty about being a hassle, but it turned out to be fine because there were a few more of us there, including the first French vegetarians I'd ever met. I was suitably impressed: France is notoriously tricky for veggies, so it take real determination.

Despite knowing almost no-one else there, I had a good time and everyone was extremely nice. Best of all, P showed me an extremely clever trick involving the laces on my Salomon trail shoes: the tongues have a little pocket that you can use to tuck the ends of the speed laces. I'd been wondering what you were supposed to do with the ends — thus far I'd been settling for tucking them into to the shoe — so P's suggestion came as a blinding revelation.

Wandering home through Exeter on a Saturday night — not something I normally do — was entertainingly colourful. I was particularly struck by an extremely chivalrous moment where I saw a man using a street sign to open bottle of beer for a damsel in distress. Or, if not quite distress, certainly a damsel in need of a bottle opener...

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05:57 pm: Every Heart a Doorway
Despite it's brevity, Seanan McGuire's Every Heart a Doorway is well worth every penny. Indeed, I think it might be McGuire's very best work to date — and given the quality of her prolific output, that's saying something. Set in Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children, the book takes the idea of portal adventures seriously and sets about examining the sort of trauma children might suffer after being pushed back into the mundane world after being spending time in a fantasy land.

Nancy Whitman has been enrolled in the Home for Wayward Children by her worried parents; convince that their daughter is suffering the after effects of being held hostage for six months, they hope that Eleanor West's school might be able to fix their daughter. But Eleanor knows better: Nancy's problems stem not from a kidnapping but from the years she spent in the Halls of the Dead, a slow, formal, logical place where she learnt the knack of becoming a living statue.

Like many of the children, Nancy is convinced that her exile is temporary and that she will eventually be allowed back through her doorway. But her new roommate, who grew up in a Nonsense world and who has been at the school for a while, soon sets her straight:

"...hope is a knife that can cut through the foundations of the world," said Sumi. Her voice was suddenly crystalline and clear, with none of her prior whimsy. She looked at Nancy with calm, steady eyes. "Hope hurts. That's what you need to learn, and fast, if you don't want it to cut you open from the inside out. Hope is bad. Hope means you keep on holding to things that won't ever be so again, and so you bleed an inch at a time until there's nothing left."

But this is not surprising. Unlike other schools, which encourage their charges to forget, Eleanor West has specifically selected a set of pupils who want to remember their experiences, however painful and regardless of whether they want to go back. Kade, in particular, expresses this conflict clearly: he loved his world which allowed him to be a prince and not a princess, but they expelled him when they discovered his nature, as did his parents when they realised that he was Kade rather than Katie. Nancy, who is considered eerie by the majority of the children who spent their away time in happy fantasy worlds, quickly finds friends among the schools outsiders.

But in the world at large, all the children are outsiders in their own ways, and that's why they went away. Because there's something unique about each of the pupils, regardless of where they went, that attracted their particular portal and drew them to a world that suited them, whether that was a world of rainbows or the gothic horror world of the Moors where twins Jack and Jill — full names Jacqueline and Gillian — found themselves.

"That's the thing people forget when they start talking about things in terms of good and evil," said Jack, turning to look at Lundy. She adjusted her glasses as she continued, "For us, the places we went were home. We didn't care if they were good or evil or neutral or what. We cared about the fact that fore the first time, we didn't have to pretend to be something we weren't. We just got to be. That made all the difference in the world.

The quiet, odd charm of the school is broken when a pupil is found dead, their body mutilated perimortem. Naturally gossip centres on the macabre group of outsiders, especially when they offer their special knowledge — Jack's scientific skills, Christopher's expertise with skeletons, and Nancy's knowledge of the rites of the death — to help Eleanor. But it isn't until the second murder that things the gossip really starts to spill over into full-on suspicion.

Every Heart a Doorway is a complete delight from start to finish. The world McGuire conjures up is completely authentic, from the school's scientific classification of different portal worlds — along the axes of Logic and Nonsense, and Wickness and Virtue — to Eleanor's pupil selection process which involves duping the parents for the greater good of their children. The characters are beautifully drawn and wonderfully precise. Nancy, still and cool, is a fixed centre point at the heart of the narrative. Kade, wise beyond his years, is the heart and Jack, a dapper, kinder Victor Frankenstein, is the keen mind who always knows what has to be done, even and especially when it is painful.

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11:35 am: Twenty-nineth parkrun
A bit slower than last week at 20:29 but still in the right territory. I also finished higher up the field than last week — 15th versus 22nd — despite a slightly larger field; I imagine this is simply because all the really fast people are on holiday!

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July 22nd, 2016

10:20 pm: Mozart and Mendelssohn symphonies and arias
Hmm, well, Mozart symphonies are very much not my thing — even the final three, which are by far the best of the bunch — but Le Cercle de l'Harmonie seemed to decent job of it. The opening symphony was followed by Mendelssohn's concert aria Infelice and, after the interval, Mozart's concert aria Ah, lo previdi, both new to me and far more my sort of thing, with Rosa Feola taking the solo part. The arias were followed by a spritely performance of Mendelssohn's 4th symphony and, as an encore, a bright and breezy take on the overture to The Marriage of Figaro.

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July 21st, 2016

09:47 pm: Climbing the pain away
After a pretty terrible day, when a routine operation appears to have triggered some sort of interrupt in the high availability software, resulting in a cascading series of panics and crashes, we got everything mopped up in time to go climbing.

We warmed up on some easy stuff and then L cracked one of the 6a+ slab routes, A looked extremely accomplished on everything she tried; she declined to attempt an extremely fingery new 6b+, leaving it to me to on-sight it. I also sent a challenging — largely because I misread a move and felt rather pumped by the top — 6b+ which rewarded good footwork and would have rewarded good route-reading skills, had I had them!

Just what the doctor ordered after a day that was less than stellar.

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