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A Night At The Opera


I remember one evening attending the theatre with an old friend, Anders Pedometer - a small, round-faced, short-sighted man. When the curtain went up a strange sound welled from the orchestra pit.

Anders had fallen from the balcony and was sitting on the shoulders of an oboe player. I was left holding his well-groomed black moustache, white eyebrows and left hand. The audience applauded under the false impression that Anders' acrobatics and severed hand were part of the show. He never again set foot in a theatre. I was told he once threw a bus timetable at a theatre door in Paris due to a train arriving late at Saint-Germain-des-Prés.

Following that episode poor Anders hurtled headlong into a mire of alcoholism, drug abuse and chain-smoking feather mattresses. I'm under no illusions; Anders is somewhere, dying slowly. I wish I could say his future is uncertain, but friendship demands openness, a passion for honesty.

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I've kept diaries my entire adult life. Not my own, of course. I confess they have provided me with welcome distraction and untold pleasure when I desired calm day or night. The excitement of reading and pondering another individuals account of love, desire, embarrassment, meetings planned that did not happen, and synopsis of dealing with demons, rootlessness, anxiety, were engaging and enlightening. The diaries reminded me of my failings and weaknesses, and why I constantly felt bewildered and lost.

The life the diaries portrayed was not exhausted by sleepless nights or indecision. Each page described the fulfilment of dreams, successful conclusions and the need to make sense of one's existence. The remarks were neither blurred nor ambiguous.

This morning my home is less warm, my vision blurred, my movements motionless. I was foolish, or absentminded, not to recognise the chronicler of such dubious passages was myself. Suddenly my dreams were drowned by waves of devastating, tangible reality. I retired to the sitting room to play Ravel's Concerto for the Left Hand with my right foot. Somehow it seemed appropriate.

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 This year, I have read and reread Guy de Maupassant's short story The Necklace. I remain dazzled by its brevity, ironic plot, and thought-provoking brilliance. Many films, novels, stories, plays, operas, are overly long for no other reason than poor editing.

A case in point. During a recent operatic performance of Hamlet the lovely Ophelia took so long to die I wept with dismay. Her expressions and gestures (never mind her singing, wailing, giving and throwing flowers) made me mumble in Chinese, eat a stranger's handkerchief, and tear my shirt, trousers and stockings to shreds. In a moment of madness I approached the stage. With Ophelia in a trance I filled her ears with pansies, each nostril with violets, and placed a garland of fennel in her mouth for good measure. Anything to help her on her way, so to speak.

The scene ended abruptly. Surprisingly the audience roared my praise. I bowed, embracing a sustained ovation. Was the opera finished? The rest of the performance cancelled? No. Just shortened. It ended just before midnight just as I collapsed with a migraine.

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Reflections: One should choose wisely which books to read as one's lifespan is limited. Since I was twelve or thirteen years of age I've borrowed books from libraries. I'm glad I didn't have to purchase most of them. On reading a few of the novels it was a triumph to get past the first chapter. Does anyone count the money they spend on wearily written novels that swim to the public on a slick sea of marketing, advertising, and chain-book store and supermarket placement?

The choice of downloading thousands of ebooks to an electronic reader is a choice for many readers. While outlets still exist I enjoy browsing, exploring, reading and purchasing books at local bookstore chains. Also, on the internet when the price dictates. In the present economic climate my first port of call is the library, unless I discover an unforgettable book that does not have to plea to join my personal collection.