The Last Night of The Proms

For some years now I’ve been resisting the pressure to acquire a smart meter to monitor my electricity usage.  Won’t one form of electronic surveillance just lead to another?  It’s a snoopers’ charter I tell you!  But I finally succumbed to the persuasiveness of the electricity board – “Dr Campbell, traditional meter reading is being phased out.  Your smart meter is ready to be fitted.  Please choose one of the following times at your convenience…”  

I have to say they were very good.  They came on time and the whole thing only took about half an hour.  It has been salutary to monitor my energy usage.  It is reassuring to wake in the morning, glance at the monitor, and see the dial at zero, despite the fact that the fridge, the broadband hub, and the phone are all ticking away.  I put on a few lights and the usage goes up to tuppence an hour.  I sing a ditty from Mary Poppins – “Tuppence, tuppence, tuppence an hour.”  Then I put the kettle on.  Good grief! 

The fact is, the smart meter has turned me into a miser.  I sit, like Scrooge, in a greatcoat and three jumpers, with the lights out.  And I don’t have gas.  Now electricity, per kilowatt hour, is about six times as expensive as gas.  How can that be?  A friend of mine has her own personal windmill and sells electricity to the national grid.  She watches the vanes go round and says, “Kerching, kerching.”  Yet I’m glad I don’t have gas.  I think we should leave the fossil fuels under the seabed.  Spend a bit more and save the planet.  It’s only money.  On Saturday evening I allowed myself the luxury of watching The Last Night of the Proms.  Two hours of music for a groat.    

It occurs to me that its 125th outing, on Saturday, really was The Last Night of the Proms.  Nothing lasts for ever.

It was a lovely concert, if, for obvious reasons, ill-attended.  The BBC Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Dalia Stasevska, and they were joined by South African soprano Golda Schutz, who sang the aria Deh vieni, non tardar from Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, Richard Strauss’ Morgen!, Night Waltz; ‘The Glamorous Life’ from Stephen Sondheim’s A little night Music, and, from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, You’ll Never Walk Alone.  Magnificent voice.

Lisa Batiashuli was due to play Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending but unfortunately she was indisposed.  The remarkable Nicola Benedetti stepped in at short notice.  She has previously played The Lark at a Prom, and indeed she has previously played (Max Bruch) on the last night, so she was right at home.  Wonderful. 

I greatly enjoyed the modern short pieces – Andrea Tarrodi’s Solus, and Errollyn Wallen’s Jerusalem – over clouded hills, a BBC commission and world premiere, whose dissident take on a cherished anthem perhaps served as a reminder that, on this night, everything could not be as it once was.  There was a truncated whistle stop tour of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.  The piper playing outside Dundee’s V & A with the backdrop of the Tay Bridge was extraordinarily good.    

So we moved on to the area of controversy – whether or not to celebrate Britain’s imperialist past.  Actually the controversy appeared to evaporate.  Thomas Arne’s Rule Britannia was given an “authentic” rendition by the BBC singers, which turned it into a museum piece.  Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No 1 was similarly pared down, and Parry’s Jerusalem was in its composer’s original form, with organ accompaniment.  Benjamin Britten’s version of the National Anthem is always arresting.  Auld Lang Syne was not sung.  Maybe the absence of an audience made it impossible. 

Splendid concert, spoiled by some naff production.  I could understand cutting to a scene from Wiltshire during The Lark, but the Old Man of Storr?  Nothing could be less evocative of Skye’s wild Trotternish silhouette, and the terrifying buttresses of the Quairang, than RVW in his most pastoral mood.  Maybe the stark recognition of that grinding, forced juxtaposition is the reason why Saturday night might have been the last hurrah.  I just can’t see 6,000 souls in September 2021 packing the Royal Albert Hall to the rafters and waving Union flags.  As I write, Westminster is about to debate whether or not Her Majesty’s Government should break the law in a specific and limited way.  Sir John Major and Tony Blair, in the Sunday Times, urged Parliament to defeat the government.  Good luck with that.

There are some things you can’t do in a specific and limited way, like falling in love, falling pregnant, committing murder, succumbing to Botulinum toxin.  (“I’ve got a touch of Botulism!”)  Also, there are some circles you cannot square.  Actually there are no circles you can square.  Try as you might, you can’t leave the European Union and then pretend that a border isn’t going to be created, somewhere.  I have an idea that Mr Blair might be able to say once more, “The kaleidoscope has been shaken.”  Where will we all be a year from now?  So many imponderables: constitutional issues, Brexit, global warming, pollution, mass migration of peoples, mass species extinction, Covid.  I can’t see the BBC resuming “normal service”.  The Last Night of the Proms was certainly different this year.  Next year, if it exists at all, I think it will be unrecognisable.   

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