Last Christmas, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW), our three sons and I, decided to replace the tradition of us each giving everyone else a present, with a Secret Santa arrangement. In this, each person draws a lot to determine which single person they should buy a Secret Santa present for up to a (relatively small) price limit. This allows more focus and so reduces considerably the stress of (useful) present buying and the chance of getting something unwanted.
The reason I recall this now is that last week I was able to act upon my Secret Santa present: a ticket to a gig by Yo La Tengo at Hackney Arts Centre. Actually, the giver, Eldest Son (ES), was no secret and, indeed, I went with him. But Secret Santa was, for me as a receiver, a great hit.
Yo La Tengo is a band I have loved since I started buying albums by them in 2000. In fact, they have been together as a three piece since the mid 1980’s and, as ES said after the gig, they have become very proficient at what they do. Their music varies from gentle muses to Velvet Underground-like wig outs. Unfortunately they didn’t rock ES’s boat but I loved almost all of the two-and-a-half hour performance. I’m still humming their tunes to myself every day.
The venue is a gutted old cinema with bare walls and the seats taken out (contrary to the picture of comfortable seating on their website!). We had to sit on nicely preserved, but very hard, wooden steps. My back and bum could only take hour of that but then I was able to stand at the front and the two halves of the gig from the two vantage points was nice variety.
I made two separate trips to London last week. During these I met with a fellow retiree ex-work colleague for lunch, caught up with Middle Son (MS) for breakfast and met up with ES and his girlfriend. I also went once again to my favourite folk club – The Lantern Society – which was once again consistently good across 10 brief but high quality and varied acts.
I then travelled up to my parents in Nottingham and jumped on from there to Mansfield to see my football team (lose entertainingly again).
The most surprising element amid all this was a visit I made to the Guildhall Art Gallery. Although it is only a 10 minute walk from where I lived for 20 years, I had never been before. I went to see an exhibition of Victorian art portraying lives and perceptions of children. However, I also walked around the rest of an impressive gallery and the very well exhibited remains of a Roman amphitheatre in the bowels of the building. London never ceases to surprise.
The main exhibition at the gallery, called Seen and Heard was interesting, informative and well presented. It resonated well with a book I’m just finishing called A House Unlocked by Penelope Lively. As it happens this was another Christmas present, this time from LSW’s Aunt. Lively uses her memory of artefacts and aspects of a rather grand childhood home in west Somerset to launch narratives on how various elements of social life have changed in the last 150 years or so.
Lively covers childhood, gardening, hunting, immigration and marriage and much more. The chapters covering childhood and parenting interlocked with some of what I saw at the Guildhall and it all rang true. In particular, the section on her marriage got me nodding my head in agreement. Here is an extract of one paragraph:
“Every marriage is a journey, a negotiation, an accommodation. In a long marriage, both partners will mutate; the people who set out together are not the same two people after ten years, let alone thirty or more…… Our marriage was like most; it had its calm reaches, its sudden treacherous bends, its episodes of white water to be navigated with caution and a steady nerve…… We meshed entirely in tastes and inclinations, could always fire one another with new interest, and laid down over the years that rich sediment of shared references and mutual recognition familiar to all who have known long companionship. You are separate people, but there is a shadowy presence which is an entity, the fusion of you both.”
I’m expecting LSW and I to build another layer of sediment of shared memory over the next few weeks as we travel to Qatar and then tour Sydney, Tasmania and Perth in Australia. Watch this space.