Wednesday 29 August 2007

Ballet in the Binnenhof

Unfortunately a rather a wet evening for an outdoor festival, but despite the weather a large number of people turned up for this evening's ballet performance by the Gallili dance company, one of a number of performances over 3 nights in the Binnenhof in The Hague.

The evening got off to a rather late start, caused by a slow security procedure, which meant that unfortunately one item was removed from the program. As you can probably see from the photo, Fiona and I didn't end up with particularly good seats, and after craning our necks through the first dance (and missing most of it), we managed to move and find better seats for the rest of the performance.

The dances were very varied, ranging from intense to amusing and acrobatic. Well, I can't begin to describe them, but the photographs on the festival page (link above), perhaps can convey some idea.

Tuesday 28 August 2007

Desert Elephants

There are probably those who think that visiting Belgium, the UK, Canada, the USA, Morocco, Norway and Germany (albeit, for work) should be enough to satisfy a person for one year. I don't seem to fall into that category, however, so I've just booked myself a holiday in November to Namibia.

To be fair, the trip is more than just a holiday - it satisfies the itch I have to contribute a little to the world at large, as I'm planning to spend my time working as a volunteer for the Elephant-Human Relationship Aid (EHRA) project. The first week will involve working at the project's base camp, building walls to protect water supplies from elephants, allowing the farmers and elephants to live together in the harsh desert environment. In the second week, I'll be heading out into the desert on patrol, camping under the stars, tracking the elephants on foot as part of elephant herd identification and data collection projects. You can see a video about the project here.

In contrast to the basic life we'll be living on the project, I've decided to treat myself, and blown all my lovingly collected airmiles to travel over to Africa in 1st class. According to the Air France website, it promises to be quite an experience, including transfer to the airplane in a special vehicle (I kid you not), massages, "comfortable lounge wear" (not really sure what that is supposed to be), all the lotions and potions you could ever ask for, and a bed on the plane. Um well, not quite that all of this is necessary, but after sleeping on the ground for two weeks with no toilets or showers, it sounds like an enjoyable prospect!

Monday 20 August 2007

Bowdon Choir at Durham Cathedral

My second choir trip this summer was to Durham Cathedral, with the choir of St Mary the Virgin, Bowdon - my English choir, whom I still visit when I'm back at home.

Durham is a city which I have passed through a couple times, including for university interviews, but never really spent much time in. The city itself is small and welcoming, and we were lucky to be staying at one of the colleges (St Chad's), which is located directly behind the cathedral. After the steep uphill walk we had in Bristol, I really enjoyed the convenience of being able to just nip up to the cathedral, especially when loaded with robes and music.

It was great fun being back with my friends from the old choir, singing both old favourites from my 11 years in the choir, as well as exercising my sight-reading skills on the newer pieces. All in all, we were over 40 people on the weekend, which caused some logistical problems in choir stalls designed for 24 people.

The only frustration for me at Durham is that, unlike most British cathedrals, photography is not allowed. The cathedral is an incredibly awe-inspiring building, with huge great pillars, and my fingers were really itching to get my camera out! Fortunately, we were able to take photos in a couple of areas, including the cloisters and the chapter house, where we robed up and which featured in the Harry Potter films as the transfiguration classroom.

Monday 13 August 2007

European Cathedral Singers in Bristol

August is traditionally "choir camp" month, as choirs are given the opportunity to fill in for the many cathedral choirs during the summer vacation.

I spent the last week with the European Cathedral Singers (ECS), singing the services at Bristol Cathedral from Monday to Friday, and at the parish church of St Mary Redcliffe on the weekend. This is the only the second trip I've made with the ECS, and the first time I've joined for the full week.

As last year, it was both enjoyable but exhausting, as we sang 8 services in 7 days, with a lot of new (and in some cases, challenging) music. With the exception of one day off, we spent the best part of each day rehearsing, before singing evensong at 5.15. On Sunday we sang a total of 3 services, which kept us busy from 8.45am until 7.30pm.

Compared to some of the cathedrals in which I've sung, Bristol Cathedral is fairly small, and as such, less overrun with tourists and more welcoming than many.

One the other hand, St Mary Redcliffe is, on the scale of parish churches, really rather grand, but no less friendly for that. During the break in services I wandered in with my camera and was made very welcome by the sidemen on duty, who even made me a cup of tea!

One bonus of choir trips is the chance to visit parts of England that I would probably never venture to otherwise. This was my first visit to Bristol, and I had the feeling that there was plenty more to be seen, if I'd only had the time and energy!

Of course, since we were staying in Clifton, we couldn't miss seeing the famous Clifton Suspension Bridge, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Lit up at night, it was really quite a sight, although some of us were more impressed by it than others!

We were also lucky that our visit coincided with the attraction of the annual Balloon Festival, which was also based in Clifton. The balloons went up twice a day - at 6am and 6pm. Unfortunately, the one morning I managed to get up in time to go out and take photographs, the weather was changing and there were very few balloons and a lot of clouds.