Music · Travel

Week 98: BBC Proms Weekend 5 (Part 1)

After work on Monday, I went to collect my cricket whites one last time for the summer. Darwin College had made the final of the MCR cricket league. We were up against Jesus College, both of us having only lost one match each over the summer. Jesus beat us in our last meeting, but somehow lost to Churchill. I was surprised I even made the final, it was originally to have been scheduled while I was away in Australia, but had been postponed after the Jesus College grounds were made unavailable. Now, we were playing at the King’s College grounds, on the outskirts of Cambridge. We managed to cobble together a full team.

Jesus batted first, only two of their team managed to get a decent start and score runs. Our captain, Rohan took two fantastic catches at long off to keep the scoring rate down to 2/41 from the first 8 overs. I also took a catch running around from a short mid wicket. A change to the bowling attack brought them to 4/48 and struggling, but their captain steadied their ship to 4/92. Finally, the last few overs proved profitable us, featuring two dramatic run outs and a hit wicket to restrict Jesus to 9/113. However, it would prove to be too much. We got bogged down a little and collapsed from 0/19 to 4/27, and never really recovered. I got bowled in the middle, and was to blame as much as anybody. We had a late hope before our pinch hitter got caught fantastically on the boundary for 22, eventually reaching 95 all out. Jesus took the trophy, and we were disappointed, yet pleased to have gotten so far, having not managed to get a side out last year. To celebrate, we went out with the Jesus players to a nearby pub.

Life continued as normal from Tuesday through to Thursday. My time at work was spent entirely trying to debug my code. Debugging is a slow process often caused by a simple oversight made a long time ago, and took a lot of effort. It was frustrating because I wanted to be working on the actual physics.

Wednesday was our housemate Annika’s birthday, and in the evening, she wanted us to go out for a quiet meal to celebrate. She didn’t want anything too elaborate; she was still in the final stages of her PhD thesis. Jacqueline, Margaret, Annika and I headed out to get Chinese dumplings from a popular store near our house. With our stomachs full, we went out to the Jesus College bar for a few drinks to end.

By Thursday evening, I went to the tennis club to play my first match in the Champagne Leagues. The tournament is organised by the club over the summer to keep people playing through the quiet season. The reward for winning one of the three divisions is a big bottle of champagne. The format is simple: a group stage followed by a knockout stage. My opponent was Kevin, we were both probably the favourites to progress into the knockout rounds. The match was very close and very hard fought, trading games evenly throughout until I finally got a break at the end to win 8-6.

Friday had arrived, and to Jacqueline and I, that meant one thing. For us, the summer of the BBC Proms was back on again. Although there had been performances every night for the last month, this would be the first time we would make our way to the Royal Albert Hall for the season. The routine was now very familiar to us from the previous year. We took the train down to Liverpool Street in the City of London just after midday, and rode our bikes along the Thames and past Buckingham Palace to get to the Royal Albert Hall. There, we picked up a queue ticket, and went along to Jacqueline’s family friend’s apartment in Fulham where we would be staying over the weekend.

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After settling in, we headed back out to the Royal Albert Hall for our first Prom of the year. It was performed by the Orchestra of the Academy of Santa Cecilia from Rome, featuring Bernstein and Mahler’s respective First Symphonies. It was a thrill to be back in the huge amphitheatre again, and we were already recognising familiar faces from last year. Seemingly, those faces attend every prom every year. I personally enjoyed the Mahler more than the Bernstein, but I generally opt for the epic highs and lows of Mahler over most other composers.

We left Fulham early in the morning and rode our bikes around to nearby Clapham Junction. Since we were in London for the whole weekend, I decided to take the opportunity to tick off a few more real tennis courts that were a little bit harder to get to from Cambridge. Our train took us south, through the pretty South Downs and to the small town of Havant, just outside of Portsmouth. It seemed a quiet place, with not a lot going on. But we still had a way to go. From the railway station, we rode our bikes along an old railway corridor past dozens of morning dog-walkers and across a road bridge to Hayling Island. The island is formed by the outlets of various rivers that run down off the South Downs. Now, it is a sleepy holiday resort, mostly focussed on the southern, ocean-facing edge of the island.

We continued on the old railway corridor, minding all of the potholes that had formed in the gravel path. Before long, we were by the sea, looking out over the expansive shingle beaches and across to the Isle of Wight. Jacqueline and I stopped for morning tea at a coffee shop themed around Alice in Wonderland, excitedly eating our English-style breakfast food. From there, we just had to go around the corner to find the Real Tennis Club. The complex is a maze of racquet sport courts. While it centres around the Real Tennis courts, there was also a racquets court, several squash courts, a badminton court, and a few outdoor lawn tennis courts as well. Central to it all was a well-stocked bar. I had two hours of matches booked, so in that time Jacqueline went out to explore the beaches. The court played with heavy cut, which tends to reward good strokeplay, and is perhaps the reason why a disproportionate number of the UK’s current professional players played here as juniors. I went on to win one match and lose the other, before I found Jacqueline again.

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We needed to head back up to London, but first I wanted to grab a bite to eat, so we dropped in at the local seaside amusement park to get some fast food from their canteen. From there, we rode back up the railway corridor and back onto the mainland, with a few minutes to spare to catch our train back to London.

Arriving back at Clapham Junction, we stopped off quickly at the apartment to have a quick shower and change clothes into something a little nicer, before heading out to the Royal Albert Hall. We took our promming positions in the middle of the hall. Tonight was a rare occurrence at the Proms, the same performance was put on both as a matinee and an evening performance. The reason was clear though, tonight was a semi-staged production of Bernstein’s West Side Story. The Broadway show is broadly based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, set in New York with Puerto Rican and Anglo gangs representing the warring families. While the musical followed most of the beats of the Shakespeare play, I found the ending lacking the intensity and suspense of the original. Most of the music was well performed, fun and catchy, though. After the show, Jacqueline and I went out to grab dinner in South Kensington, before riding our bikes back to the apartment.

Sunday would play out much the same as Saturday. I had another real tennis court lined up to visit, this time within the boundaries of London. Jacqueline, however, would head out to the centre of London to catch up with an old friend over brunch.

To begin, we headed out together to the Royal Albert Hall to pick up queue tickets, which reserve our place in the queue for the BBC proms later in the evening. From there, Jacqueline headed into town, while I got on my bike and rode north, roughly following the path of the Northern Line. The route wasn’t the best for cyclists, but it would be faster and cheaper than taking the Tube. My destination was Middlesex University, one of four universities worldwide to have its own real tennis court. Being off-term and a weekend, the campus was almost deadly quiet, but I still managed to find my way to the court. The court is very new, the first built in the 21st century, and features under court heating, that would have been much appreciated had it been winter time. I went to find the pro, who was rather distressed. Apparently, the worldwide court booking and handicap system for real tennis had gone down overnight, and now nobody anywhere knew when or how they were supposed to be playing. Fortunately, both of my opponents turned up, and I had a pair of two good games on a court that was fairly lively.

After my matches, I took a shower, then hopped back on my bike and rode back towards the apartment to drop off my bag, where I met Jacqueline who had returned from her brunch. We got to the Royal Albert Hall but the queue was already moving, and we missed our good queue position. Nevertheless, we were still had a good position near the front. The first Prom of the night featured the Academy of St Martin in the Fields with their conductor/virtuoso Joshua Bell. Jacqueline wasn’t too fond of his performance of the Saint-Saёns Violin Concerto, and I couldn’t help but agree. It was precise, but rather passionless. The second half featured Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4, which was much more appealing.

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We left the Royal Albert to go and get some dinner from South Kensington, but unfortunately the service took far too long and we had to race to get back up to the Hall in time for the second Prom of the night, this time featuring the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus for Elgar’s rather beautiful and melancholy Cello Concerto. This and the rest of the programme commemorated the hundredth anniversary of the first World War. It was powerful, poignant and solemn, a fantastic overall performance. Afterwards, we headed back to the apartment for the night.

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