Saturday, 30 July 2011

Summertime Stress

It’s summertime and the living is, well, frantic. The pressure is on to enjoy oneself at picnics, barbeques, early-evening-cocktails on sunny terraces, jazz festivals, literary, festivals, general-purpose culture festivals – not to mention camping, glamping, hiking, biking, tennis and cricket. Anxious as I am to make hay while the sun shines I find myself at risk of dipping into rather too many of these activities while not engaging meaningfully with any one of them. So I have decided to whittle down the list by excluding some on the grounds of waning enthusiasm (e.g. open-air theatre and music events) and others on the grounds of lack of interest in the first place (e.g. tennis and cricket).
The game of cricket has never appealed. It strikes me as having one very obvious flaw: it was devised to be played outdoors – in England. This fundamental weakness, despite all logic, seems to have become accepted as an essential part of the game and has even been reinforced by the format of international Test Matches. Not only are these matches spread over four (or is it five?) days of treacherously variable weather, they are also played out in various parts of England in order to ensure maximum risk of exposure to our capricious climate. Perhaps this was intended to demonstrate to Johnny Foreigner just how mad we are. Or was the motive more underhand- a cunning idea  to put him off his stroke? I note that the game of tennis also has similarly eccentric characteristics but at least someone has at last concluded that a roof might be a good idea.
The exclusion of sports and outdoor cultural events leaves me with a more manageable to-do list but, although the summer is yet young, I fear there is no time to lose. I have already missed a few events I fancied just by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Added to this is the disappointment of time wasted due to the panic-purchase of a ticket to see a famous performance artist. I spent the first half of her show wondering just how it was possible to progress a story quite so slowly but rescued the situation at the interval by going to spend the second part, more profitably, in convivial company at the beer tent in Albert Square.
Now we are in the middle of the Manchester Jazz Festival and I am faced with the dilemma of which gigs to attend. Jazz, being a catchall title for a huge body of music, includes styles which I like and styles which I don’t so, coming back to the point of the exercise, I should have no trouble compiling a shortlist - always remembering to leave room for some horizon-expanding, experimental listening. It was during one of the experimental sessions, however, that I was reminded of this maxim: a gentleman is defined as a chap who has mastered the technique of playing the banjo but who refrains from doing so in public. The gig in question featured not the banjo but the vibraphone which, after being hammered mercilessly for twenty minutes, began to display its limited capacity as a tool for musical expression. In contrast to this I recall a later gig comprising the simple trio of piano, bass and drums whose ability to make exalted and exciting music was a reaffirmation of some classic principles of jazz.
I don’t really want to close my ears to any particular music genre in case, by doing so, I might miss a sublime musical experience.  Nevertheless, with the end of the summer season in mind, the field must be narrowed and priorities must be established somehow. I am reminded of a friend who, when asked to name her favourite music genre replied, without hesitation, “Compilations!” I think she may have hit upon an idea for the perfect, all-inclusive, time-efficient, stress-free, summer music festival.

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