Sunday, 21 November 2010


It was time for the family to dip another tentative toe into the Manx cultural backwater today.
We’d promised to take an elderly friend to a concert at the Villa Marina. She’s German, so in Ramsey she might as well be from Mars. Her Indoors and The Prodigy seem to attract such folk, and usually they’ve had interesting lives and can broaden my daughter’s experience of the world, so it’s no hassle spending a few hours a week with them.
So, it all seemed harmless enough – a French themed afternoon with noise provided by the imposingly entitled Isle of Man Symphony Orchestra, and matching movement from local dance schools.
After jumping up and down for two national anthems (Manx and French), with most of the audience badly miming words to the Manx for fear of losing their benefits and warbling by a minor celebrity soprano impressionist to guide us through the French, the racket started in earnest.
To be honest, I wish it hadn’t, but not half as much as I wish they’d tuned up before the concert started (rather than after the third item, when it seems to have first dawned on the players) or that they’d invest in a metronome.
Curiously, playing or singing in time seems to be a common problem for Manx musical ensembles: maybe Traa Dy Liooar (Manx Gaelic for ‘Wait until tomorrow’) applies to music as well as (non-) working practices.
For the second item one of the dance groups took to the stage. I’m guessing this may have been planned to divert attention away from the bum notes of the orchestra; unfortunately a bunch of plump farm girls crashing round a stage like so many heifers in tutus doesn’t really cut it either. At least at Young Farmer shows the comedy is intentional.
By this stage our elderly friend was humming along happily enough while we three were biting the backs of the seats in front to stop laughing. And it got worse.
The final item of the first half was a Ravel violin solo where, for some reason, Ravel chose to mimic gypsy violin tunes without actually incorporating any. Don’t ask me why; maybe he was just another Gallic racist who ripped off others without a tenth of the original’s flair.
An item like this is always going to be a problem to this family. In Hungary, so many gypsies can play that Csardas thing before they can walk that they’d have to stand on their heads and juggle chainsaws at the same time before punters would pay to listen.
So, admitted, bar a little high here and I don’t care if today’s soloist did study at the Royal Northern. In Budapest, if I threw a stick, any gypsy kid I hit would have made him look just what he was; a musician who hadn’t practiced the solo and didn’t think the audience would notice.
It was the one time in the gig I got genuinely annoyed (rather than highly amused) at the breath-taking arrogance of some local musos, and I wasn’t the only one. A Polish couple in front we’d got talking to turned and raised ironic eyebrows: an orthodox Jewish guy in the row behind actually had his head almost in his lap and his hands over his ears.
Then it was the interval, and yet again my daughter and I experienced the inadequate Villa catering facilities for all except alcoholics as we queued for ice cream, only for yet another bunch of well heeled geriatric gobshites to push in after we’d been there 15 minutes.
So, another important lesson for a small Manx kid. Doesn’t matter how old or how rich they are, the Manx ‘great and good’ have far worse manners than any sink estate five year old, though if other locals weren’t willing to be used like so much human bog-roll they’d have sorted it out years ago instead of voting such pondlife into office.
There was a part two to the concert, though we slept through most of that too. A Saint-Saens symphony which finally provided a chance to utilise the Villa’s most expensive white elephant, a church organ.
You’ve probably never heard it (the symphony,though no-one’s ever heard the organ either as it has a far from adequate amplification system), but it might be described as an entire orchestra fannying about like a French waiter for 15 minutes before the organist butts in with the theme tune from Babe.
After it all stopped, they handed out flowers to every muso and clodhopper in sight and the audience ran for it before the cheeky sods could sit down and start an encore. Apparently there was a guest of honour from the French consulate, so I hope this doesn’t cause a diplomatic incident.
Luckily, Manx ice cream is also great, so with luck there won’t be tears before bedtime. And after today she won’t be half as stressed about her violin progress either.

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