The circle of life

2018 has been pretty eventful, so far, mostly in a good way.

It kicked off with a fantastically fun Manouche concert in Wytham hall, playing to another packed and appreciative audience. We threw in lots of new repertoire: our own ‘Four seasons’, comprising two of Piazolla’s tangos, an ‘Autumn Leaves’ and our take on Vivaldi’s Summer. We also pieced together a medley of Irving Berlin numbers, which – to our delight – gave Robin a chance to don his tap shoes and wow the crowd!

The rest of the Spring term was unusually hectic, culminating in a ‘Theatre week’ at school, in which we staged three plays back to back within seven days. DNA and Buckets are modern pieces which were given excellent respective treatments by a creative team of Sixth-Formers and our resident director, Luke Howarth, who has real eye for inventive use of set (designed by Rachel Twycross). The indefatigable Harry Stockwell produced both shows. I was, meanwhile, busy with four of our drama scholars, working on Private Lives, Coward’s classic comedy of errors. We staged it in what had been the school theatre until the 1950s, and it worked a treat, packing out for two nights and showing what talented older pupils can do when they put their mind to it. Some old boys came to see it and were (flatteringly) blown away. I wrote a new song for it (‘C’est la vie’), and we enjoyed having a Manouche Etcetera recording session to produce something which sounded suitably 1930s French cafe…

Then came the unparalleled excitement of a new baby girl, Marguerite (Margot? Daisy? Rita? Time will tell…), who decided to arrive on Helena’s birthday as an extra present. It’s amazing how instantly one fits back into having a baby around the house, and a wonderful reminder of just how miraculous new life is. The day after the baby arrived we heard that our neighbour had sadly passed away. Jill Hamilton was an incredible lady, whose obituary makes truly extraordinary reading. She had always maintained that she would live to see the baby born, and spent her last weeks finishing a PhD for SOAS, as their oldest ever doctoral student. Her son came for supper shortly after and we enjoyed discovering a bizarre amount of mutual acquaintances from Portugal to Budapest. He relayed an intriguing story about two thousand polish refugees during WWII who were adopted, en masse, by an Indian Maharajah, leading (not least) to some highly successful Polish folk/Indian crossover music: fodder for a new musical, perhaps?

I experimented with a beard over Easter. It was pleasingly full and in its latter days was likened to that of an arctic explorer. But in the great circle of life these things come and go, and this thing went. Some were sad at its passing, others – including my employer -were not. Clare put up with it uncomplainingly for a month, but once the baby arrived I realised it might be permanently scarred by early memories of scratchy nuzzles (after all, Roald Dahl was). So aerodynamic am I now feeling that I’ve rashly signed up for Oxford’s ‘Town and Gown’ race in a couple of weeks.

We’ve started rehearsing for the Arts Festival plays. I’m directing Much Ado, which will be performed on our beautiful river bank. Last Friday I wandered down early to remind myself of the space: it was so hot I couldn’t resist a quick dip, and basked in the glorious sun to dry off before the actors arrived. This Friday I cycled into school wearing scarf and gloves, wishing I still had a beard to keep out the cold. C’est la vie…



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