Saturday, 17 June 2017

A Transition to the Dinner Party

Do you remember those money-strapped student nights? Lidl Vodka (fantastically named ‘Putinoff’), watery mixers, questionably stained carpets, decamping in the various ex-council houses around Camden?

Neither can I.

I enjoyed my fair share of house parties and budget nights during my undergraduate years but, being a London student, I had other resources at my fingertips. A beautiful friend and sloane ranger rip-off blazer and skirt combination could guarantee entry into Tonts, Bart’s and Tramp. A train-wreck succession of older partners (all of whom seemingly worked – nebulously – ‘in finance’) took me on heady excursions around established London eateries – Scott’s, Firehouse, Novikov, Hibiscus – and drinks in places where sticky floors could never haunt me – Searcys, Sushisamba, Aqua. I learnt from them about whole other worlds: a first champagne tasting do (Bollinger!); the sensuous curvature of Rodin; that Sibelius perhaps wasn’t the noisy hindrance I had so long consigned him to be. I gained the most from a remarkable friend who, with cherubic idealism and a self-assuredness that came straight from the Fourth Form Room, taught me to think less, criticise less and love more.

And so, I found myself, in the first year since graduation, sitting around a beautifully unvarnished mahogany table near Lennox Gardens, nursing a glass of Hundred Acre cab sauv and defending my analyst to a group of assorted yuppies. The evening had been comfortable – formulaic, even.

  • Aperitif – Krug – hello. Haven’t seen you in yonks. How’s it going?
  • Starter – Armand Rousseau – talks despairingly about the General Election just past. Consensual begrudging kudos to Corbyn. It is hard to be magnanimous when your party has just been bludgeoned on the head by a man who grew his beard in protest against Tony Blair.
  • Main – Hundred Acre – moves on to relationships. We have amongst us neither married partners nor settled couples. Instead, a group of pedantic and slightly defensive late twenty to mid thirty year olds (and me, selflessly bringing down the group average as usual). There is a guy having an affair with his married best friend. Our host, who is programmed against monogamy and a relationship of equals, relates his recent string of unsatisfactory dates. Numerous attempts are made to try and link these to psychological shortcomings. Isn’t it odd that Freud always seems to appeal most to the bourgeoisie?
  • Pudding – Yquem – the slightly racier side of earlier conversation.

And so forth. We got entirely pissed, loud and argumentative and divided the rest of the evening between Tonts and Ubers.

Fast forward a week later and I have the very great pleasure of listening to one of my flatmates, and her assorted same-aged work friends, throwing up spectacularly in the loo (much to the ire of the rest of the flat). The seduction of Putin(off) has felled many a stronger character.

I realise, with a not unpleasant jolt, that my such days are behind me. I have distanced myself more than I cared to realise and cheerily waved goodbye to all appropriate aged activity. I have leapt, it seems, straight into the realm of the dinner party. Civilised, mouthy, and without any irritating electronic beats until some bar, club or lounge is decided upon at an appropriate junction.

It suits me very well, more than I probably care to admit. I like going to a party and know that no-one’s going to be dressed in Nike and that all surfaces will be clean and I won’t have to start drinking budget white rum when whatever bottles I brought sadly run out. It’s the eternal snob in me, one which I’ve come to reluctantly embrace.

The question I’m trying to answer (and I’m only still awake because of the constant backtrack of vomit. Bathrooms are not known for being soundproof) is – what is it I am missing out on? My best guesses are:
  • A sort of camaraderie unique to same-aged friends
  • A devil-may-care vibe that simply cannot manifest when you’re trying to ardently defend Wagner
  • General lack of pretension
  • Cheaper companionship


Yet, I struggle to believe that such things really matter. It is a transient time anyway, and we glean different things from the cheerful limitation that is studenthood. I did my time and decided I wanted out. It’s just that I jumped a whole decade ahead.



Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Memories of late Beethoven at Midnight

In which Igor Levit concludes his Beethoven sonata cycle at the Wigmore Hall




We did not begin until ten o’ clock at night.

The crowd was buoyant, cheered by dinner and wine.

I, arriving with one newly close and full of Chassagne-Montrachet, instinctively felt that things were as they ought. The pale navy overhead, the grand dames wrapped in summer shawls emerging with their husbands from the Venetian restaurant down the way, the burnished scent of Cubans lingering about the awning.

I turned to him and I said: “This feels right.”

He, who knows a lot about old world charm but understands little of the contrapuntal or the 30th’s intrinsically wonderfully free adaption of the sonata form, gave a little smile.

I did not need him to understand but it mattered not.

It was in the late Beethoven sonatas – the very items that comprised his programme tonight – that I first heard the ideas of Igor Levit; the imagination, the surety, the intellect and surprising riposte. I lay in garden quad rooms at Merton, reading Vernon Subutex in a pool of scholar’s gold on hardwood flooring. I listened, agape and piqued, with increasing astonishment at the new subtexts of the Hammerklavier were made apparent with prideful ease never before unveiled. I sat upright, book forgotten, as he approached the 30th, that mark of intimacy which tugs more deeply on my subconscious than all others combined and – oh! The gesangvoll exposed its full lyricism like it had never done before.

The late recital at the Wigmore Hall exposed all this marvellous ingenuity, in a manner that is all too rare. How is it that few young performers are inclined to foray into the realm of late Beethoven, preferring instead the shores of the technically easier early sonatas or the soaring power of the middle-aged great Romantics? Levit exposes how very foolish this oversight is. He has an affecting manner of reaching inside himself, slightly lewdly pressed against the keyboard, and unravelling fascinating intellect together with imposing posture.

I did not realise until a pressed handkerchief was nudged atop my clasped hands that I was silently weeping.

I’m sorry,” I apologised. We stood on the north side of Wigmore Street, which was still balmy in summer heat. It was nearly midnight. “I had no idea I was.

With a serious expression, he looked at me directly. “It’s alright. I think I understand. It’s the cerebral collective. This is your world. Come,” – he offered me his arm – “let’s walk.”