Thursday, 17 April 2014

Fever Bitching.

To get to Clockhouse Way, home of Braintree Town Football Club, from London involves eighty minutes on a commuter train followed by a brisk fifteen-minute walk through Anytown, UK. You pass a pub called ‘The Pub’ which will sell you a Bellybuster Breakfast from 7am, and whose attached nightclub ‘Jardins’ is both available for private hire and the venue for Aeropump classes. Further along is another pub, called THE SPORT MAN (I think an ‘S’ has been liberated from the sign somewhere along the way) which proudly boasts that it is ‘Open from 10am-12pm', a brave two-hour window to be trading in. The ground itself is pleasingly non-league. There are rusty turnstiles, and dusty terraces, and a timewarp of a bar/social club with That Carpet. In the way of non-league football, there’s no home or away end- you just stand behind the goal your team is attacking. It was at Braintree Town that I realised that we’ve been lied to all these years. Never mind Shankly and his ‘more important than life and death’ schtick. The thing about football is that it’s much, much more enjoyable when you don’t care.

I mean, I cared a bit. The reason I happened to be in mid-Essex was that my friend Ross is a fan of Gateshead FC. This was a proper six pointer- Gateshead, at start of play, sat three points ahead of Braintree in a playoff place, but with an inferior goal difference. That’s where they sit now, too, since neither team could conjure a goal- or, if we’re honest, anything much in the way of football- over the 94 minutes. But although I wanted Gateshead to win, for Ross’ sake, and because my late granddad was from Gateshead, and although I managed a sort of strangled happybark when Braintree’s late penalty was saved, it didn’t really matter. I wasn’t invested, you see. My heart was gently pumping blood rather than imitating a Prodigy bassline (the Prodigy, by the way, are from Braintree, which explains them).

Things are very different where Fulham are concerned. Like Hugh Grant, Lily Allen, and Mohamed Al-Fayed (I’ve long considered myself a perfect combination of the three) I support Martin Jol’s I mean Rene Meulensteen’s I mean Felix Magath’s Lilywhite Army. I’ve watched us lose at home to Torquay and beat Juventus 4-1. I’ve seen a 0-0 draw with Carlisle and a 3-0 win over Manchester United (and Manchester United, like A-Levels, were harder in those days) but I’ve never watched us with the simple, uncomplicated pleasure that I got from watching Braintree hoof it one way and then Gateshead hoof it the other.

This season, in particular, ‘pleasure’ has not been the word to apply to any but the most cringingly masochistic of Fulham fans. We have lost about ten matches more than we’ve played. We’ve conceded more goals than have been scored in the entire history of football.  Going 1-0 up has generally meant losing 3-1. And yet, due to either tactical genius or a cruelly delusional Dead Cat Bounce, we’re not out of it yet. Having scraped a win on Saturday while being comprehensively outplayed by Norwich- I’ll say that again, by Norwich- we’re in a position where a couple of wins from our last four games might just see us lining up alongside Hull and Stoke and Burnley in one of Europe’s elite leagues next season.

And all I’m getting from it is the potential for a stomach ulcer. During that Norwich game I was working, keeping one eye on Soccer Saturday and the other on my job. For most of the last twenty minutes of the game, as the might of Norwich bombarded Stockade Stockdale, I felt genuinely physically sick. When the whistle blew for full time, seemingly some seventeen hours after all the other games had finished, I didn’t feel any euphoria, just a knackered, spent kind of relief. And I have to do that four more times before the end of the season, and STILL we might go down at the end of it. I don’t mind the despair, as John Cleese says in the best line ever to grace a bad film, it’s the hope I can’t stand.

Yes, there’s an orgasmic buzz when it goes well (‘Dempsey- FOUR-ONE!') but in general football makes me uneasy, and breathless, and dyspeptic, and aggressive (‘Why won’t you just blooming lie down and die, you Welsh fools’ I yelled at my laptop when Cardiff went ahead at Southampton, except I didn’t say ‘blooming’ or ‘fools’). It gives me a good two hours of unremitting nervous tension a week. Remind me, which bit of that is supposed to be fun? Why have I, a grown adult, allowed myself to become emotionally- and, dammit, physiologically- invested in the (under)achievements of a bunch of twentysomething millionaires? Give me a 0-0 draw between Braintree and Gateshead any day. Enough of being THE SPORT MAN; I’ll see you down The Pub.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Three Short Stories About Innocence

1: 1976.  Somewhere in the air.

My first trip in an aeroplane, aged 2. I was flying to Poland with my mother and sister to join my father, who was directing one of his plays in Krakow. My first memory is of looking out of the window and Mum saying 'That's Holland'. I didn't know what a Holland was.

I have subsequently learned that Van Gogh and Ruud Gullit and Gré Brouwenstijn were Dutch. Friends of mine recommend Amsterdam as a holiday destination (I'd definitely go to the Anne Frank House). There was that film maker who got shot. They used to own Surinam. I could go on.

What a lot I've learned about Holland, since 1976.

2: 2013. Keswick.

We were on holiday for my mum's birthday- me, sis, mum, bro-in-law and niece. My niece is a bright, sparky seven year old, and because she's got a brain on her it's sometimes problematic to keep her occupied while the grown-ups do grown-up things like drinking. Fortunately, she's a big fan of 'Strictly Come Dancing' and will happily watch it, making notes of the scores in her little book until she decides to do something more interesting.

Anyway, there we were in the Lakes. I had mistimed dinner so the rest of the family was watching TV while I pottered hurriedly around the kitchen. Deborah Meaden and her partner, Robin Windsor, took to the floor. My niece looked up from her colouring book.

'Mum, is Deborah married?' she asked. 'Yes' said sis.

'Is Robin married?' she asked. 'Yes' said sis.
As The Only Gay In The Room I gave my sister the Hard Look. Because my sister recognised it and is brilliant, she added 'Robin is married to a man'.

'Oh' said my niece, mildly, and went back to her colouring book.

3: 1985, London/ 2013, London

So here's the thing. On the tube tonight, I discovered that the campaign to put PG stickers on music to protect children dates from when I was one of the children worth protecting. I was 11 and then 12 in 1985, when Prince released the song 'Darlin' Nikki', whose lyrics were deemed so filthy that Tipper Gore decided children should be protected from them. My sister, five years older, listened to the album containing that song a LOT. 

I remember the lines 'I guess you could say she was a sex fiend/ I met her in a hotel lobby/ Masturbating with a magazine'. Here's how, aged 11 or 12, I parsed those lines. Firstly, I couldn't really imagine what a 'sex fiend' was. I knew there was something called sex. I knew I wasn't interested in it. Therefore a 'sex fiend' was right up there with the Dungeons and Dragons fans, another interest I didn't share.

She was in a 'hotel lobby'. I had been in very few: I connected them with waiting for my parents to pay some kind of incomprehensible bill.

Now, here we go. She was 'masturbating with a magazine'. I can't remember if I knew the word 'masturbation' when I was 11/12 but I certainly had a vague idea of the concept (Note: I didn't link my fiddling about with the 'sex' that Darlin' Nikki was a 'fiend' for. Tiddling with my dinky was one thing- 'sex' was something boring adults did). Anyway, at some later point I clocked that Nikki was 'masturbating' and had an idea what that meant. But with a MAGAZINE? I had been told how the female body was constituted. I knew about 'mating' and what was supposed to go in where. That's where my knowledge ended. I'm not going to spell out what I innocently assumed Nikki was doing with that magazine, although I bet you can guess.

Later on in the song, Nikki did a lot of 'grinding'. No idea. Coffee?


What's the moral of this story? I can't help but think that my discovery that there was a thing called Holland was no more harrowing or ground-breaking than my niece's discovery that Robin Windsor has a husband; just another fact to store in the fact list. As for Prince's groundbreakingly filthy song, I'm kind of glad that my parents didn't sit me down and explain to an eleven year old the mechanics of female masturbation- they, and I, would have been embarrassed. If they had, I would have spent less time assuming that the song referred to someone sitting in a Holiday Inn, rolling up a Marie Claire, and risking all kinds of intimate paper cuts. But, you know, I realised that eventually.

I'm not a parent. But I remember being a child. There are things you get told, and things you find out for yourself. And it strikes me that when you're told stuff, the attitude with which you're told it is the important thing. It strikes me that when you find out stuff, it's stuff you'll understand one day, even if you don't at first.

It's not what we tell them, or when. It's how.

Monday, 30 September 2013


 I’ve had a brilliant idea. It’s the perfect solution to something that’s been bothering and upsetting me for a while.
In just under a year, the people of Scotland will be voting on whether they should become independent. I have worked in Scotland a lot, and have many beloved Scottish friends on both sides of the border. I was also born into a country called Britain: it had been like that for a couple of hundred years. I’ve never seen myself as anything other than British. If that country is pulled apart, it will pull me apart with it. I’ll become stateless. I’ll become something called English, which I never signed up for, and I'm not that keen on, and without anyone even asking me.

So I hope Scotland votes No. But most- not all, but most- of my beloved Scottish friends are going to vote Yes. I don’t think they’re going to do that because they dislike the English. Some Scots will vote Yes for that reason, but I don’t think the majority of Yes-voters will. No, I think those Scottish friends of mine who are going to vote Yes will do so (and break my heart in the process) because they’re sick of being governed by Westminster.

That’s when it struck me. I’m sick of being governed by Westminster too. I am a grudging member of a party I haven’t believed in since I was 20, merely because I have decided they’re least worst. That party is out of government: instead, we’re being governed by a savage and moronic bunch comprised of the other two parties, a government which is tearing apart our most treasured national ideals like a bunch of gatecrashers who know the police have been called. A government which is only in power because three quarters of it is unwillingly/willingly propped up by the other.

If I were Scottish, I’d be so annoyed about that, because they didn’t vote for those people. Then it struck me: nor did I. And nor did my city.

So that’s the idea. If Scotland votes for Independence, I am going to start the LNP like a shot: the London National Party. We, like most UK cities, tend to go red on Election nights and end up with a Blue government. If my 5 million brothers and sisters North of Hadrian’s Wall can escape from that, then so can my 8 million London compadres. (Well, not quite 8 million, acksh: I’m going have to trim things off after zone 3 because it’s all those Beckenhams and Bromleys and Richmonds whose votes stuck us with that floppy-haired psychopath. Don’t worry, they won’t mind- they’ll happily live in Tory England while those of us over the border in Leftie London celebrate).

Don’t think, by the way, that when I rejoice in the idea of an independent Left-wing London that I’m necessarily talking about the Labour Party. They’d have to behave- they learned that in 2000 when they tried to foist the well-meaning apparatchik Frank Dobson on us and he ended up losing to a leftier alternative.

And seriously, who would be upset about this? Wales would soon follow suit and have a nice Plaid (in both senses) government. Manchester and Liverpool and Leeds and Newcastle would all opt for independence, I’m sure, if the alternative were to be part of an England made up only of the True Blue shires. Birmingham's always wavered between L and R, but I'm sure finally becoming capital would sweeten that pill. ‘England’ could have its monarchy and its tradition and its pound notes and the rest of us would happily make do with President Izzard, renationalisation of TFL, and nice tax and spend cities with decent schools and hospitals. And of course Independent Scotland and the People's Republic of London could form a New Auld Alliance that would make Gloucestershire shake in its boots.

So I desperately hope my country doesn’t get torn apart next year. But if it does, I have a GREAT alternative to being part of a Forever Tory England. Who’s with me?

Friday, 23 August 2013

Late night depression.

There was a sort of semi-party after tonight's show: we have a fortnight off while EDWARD II techs and dresses and previews and opens.

It was joyful: we're not-too-far from the end of a smashing job, so everyone was in a good mood and we had a little drinkup at the Pit Bar.

Then I got a cab home.

Yeah, you'll be waiting for the old 'I got a cab and the cab driver wasn't a spotless liberal' story. We've all had one of those. But this one was scarier, and more upsetting, and felt worryingly as if it were illustrative of a wider problem.

I was sharing the cab with one of the cast, and we had the usual 'and then this happened' show-type conversation. When my castmate got out of the cab, the driver said 'so, you're an actor, are you?' At this point I would usually make something up, but he'd picked us up from a theatre and had heard us talking about the show, so I answered in the affirmative.

'My missus is a make-up artist' he said 'she used to work in the West End but now she works in films'.

This led to some pleasant chatter about the difference between theatre and film, and how his missus worked with different people, and yadayada. Until I mentioned the name of a particular film actor. Then things got very dark.

'Oh, that bitch?' he said. 'That whore?' Trying to keep things unhorrid, I asked if his wife had worked with the actor in question and found her unpleasant. 'No' he said 'I don't think the missus has worked with her. But everyone knows she's a dirty little whore. Dirty little bitch. Haven't you seen the pictures? I could give you the link to the pictures."

We'd had a pleasant, chatty journey. I'd assumed that he was a nice fella. But he'd assumed that I would be happy to hear him say that. That we would be on the same page. That a half-arsedly pleasant conversation could be capped by... by THAT.

I overtipped him, and walked into my flat, a little less of a person than I had been before.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Game, Set, Bitch.

So, it turns out it’s Misogyny July. We’ve had InverdaleGate, where a complacent and corpulent male journalist chose to focus on the looks of a superb athlete right at the moment she reached the pinnacle of her profession. We’ve been shown the sickening outpourings of idiot tweeters about the same woman. We’ve had MurrayWadeGate, where much virtual ink was spilled on 1977 and 1936 and 77 years and Marray and Haydon-Jones and all that. But the really disturbing indicator of how our society looks at women didn’t happen anywhere near the All-England Club. It’s happening in and around a TV programme that the media doesn’t really take any notice of any more, and it stinks.

Hazel O’Sullivan is an Irish model, and is single. Daley Ojuederie is an English boxer, and doesn’t seem too sure whether he’s single or not. In the last couple of weeks, they’ve been flirting up a storm. She’s been grinding her behind against his crotch. They’ve been tapping out Morse Code messages on each others’ hands. There has been draping. All this is something, I’m informed, that Young People Do. But unusually for such couples, we who have never met them can be certain that they have never kissed each other, or had sex. We can be certain of this because they have chosen to spend their summer in the Big Brother house.

Ok, yes, this is about Big Brother. They’re Big Brother contestants. But don’t stop reading just yet, because I promise you that what is about to happen to Hazel O’Sullivan is an example of a scarier, more insidious, more prevalent kind of misogyny than anything Inverdale could have dreamt of in his wildest Wimbledon fantasies.

So, Hazel and Daley are in the Big Brother house together. They’ve been there for just shy of a month and have started doing the ritual sexdance of reality show contestants. Canoodling and whispering and everything I mentioned above. You may remember that I also mentioned Daley’s uncertain relationship status: he claimed when he went into the house that he had a girlfriend, but in the last few weeks he has, what with all the canoodling and that, recanted. He has said that his relationship is ‘in a pickle’. He ‘doesn’t know’ whether he has a girlfriend or not. He ‘wishes he could find out’. O’Sullivan, in the meantime, just so you know, knows she’s single. And her knowledge of Ojuederie’s relationship status is what he’s told her: all the vague ‘pickle’ stuff.

Now, let’s guess who Britain- or that part of Britain which watches  and writes about BB, at any rate- has decided to hate, shall we? That’s right. Cherchez la femme.

Hazel is odds-on favourite to be evicted this week. She will exit the house on Friday to a storm of boos. She will be labelled a ‘homewrecker’, and a ‘slag’, and a ‘slut’, all because she did some dirty dancing and some flirting and some cuddling with a man who told her he was more or less a free agent.

Just to rub it in even further, Big Brother’s spin-off, public show invited Daley’s is-she-or-isn’t-she girlfriend Katie on for a tearful interview last night. She insisted that Daley was lying when he said that their relationship was, to coin a Friends, on a break. She insisted that, and she cried. It was upsetting, and she came across as sincere and devastated. At the same time, her take was treated as gospel, when as far as any of us can know, Daley, trapped in the house without an interviewer, is telling- confusedly-  the truth about their status. Immediately after the interview with Katie, presenter Emma Willis asked the studio audience what they thought… of Hazel. She didn’t ask what they thought of the putative cheater; she encouraged them to boo the co-respondent.

Now look. I’m not under any illusions that Hazel O’Sullivan is a sister.  Her behaviour on the show has been at best ill-advised. She may be a thoroughly unpleasant individual; only people who know her can say what she’s like. And it’s only Big Brother, after all. Who cares? It’s a trashy reality show.

But in this case, I think this particular trashy reality show is tapping into something which is bigger than the show, an attitude whereby any sexual interaction between a man and a woman has to be driven by her. After all, if we’re going to blame anyone for Daley’s girlfriend’s tears- are they really Hazel’s fault? Are they not, you know, his? Let’s assume, as the programme-makers did, that Daley and Katie were rock-solid before he entered the house. If we then say ‘Ah, but Hazel went after him with her wiles and he was powerless to resist’ are we not backing up every anti-woman story from Eve to ‘she shouldn’t have been walking through the park in that skirt’?

I remember all those storifys from the weird individuals on Twitter who were insulted that Bartoli had the temerity to win Wimbledon: Bitch, they said. And Cunt. And Slag. And Whore. And it’s easy to get angry about them, because they’re so obviously undeserved.

But another woman is about to get a beasting, on the same social media we deplore for the Bartoli stuff. She’ll be called bitch and whore and cunt and slag and nobody will mind all that much.

And I know you don’t watch Big Brother, but I think we probably should mind about that. Because people who win Wimbledon are basically going to be ok. Whereas Hazel O’Sullivan is about to be publicly labelled as a bitch-whore-cunt because she didn’t quite kiss someone who wasn’t sure whether he had a girlfriend or not. And I think that’s much more worrying than Inverdale being crass about an athlete’s looks.

Monday, 24 June 2013


So, work got in the way. A four-show weekend for OTHELLO means that I'm two shows behind when it comes to events in Cardiff.

By now, you know who won, I know who won, and we both know it was who we knew was going to win when the competition was announced. But I'm sure there will be a few exciting things I've missed along the way.

It would be an impertinence, though, to blog 'as live' several days after the event, wouldn't you say? Information is so up-to-the-minute that I have just received an email reply timestamped before the original was sent (truefact: I'll screengrab it if you don't believe me...) and I have no desire to be the digital equivalent of a poor knackered carrier pigeon arriving just as the newspaper is thrown away.

So when I eventually get to see the two missed concerts, I'll opt for the impressionistic rather than the thorough. I expect my first impression will be 'THOSE are the finalists? Srsly?"

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Gassing Mit Ein Gast

I am suffering for you tonight, dear readers. The flatmate’s home and in order to buy myself 90 minutes of primetime opera-watching, I promised him he could watch what he liked between 6pm and 7.30.

I don’t know if you’re familiar with ‘Storage Wars’ at all. It’s an American show wherein people buy storage units whose owners have lapsed with their payments. Once they’ve bought them, they get to see what’s inside.

Waiting for the payoff? There isn’t one. That’s the whole show. The flatmate loves programmes where people buy things. Me, not so much. In fact I’d rather hear Gabriele Fontana’s Zdenka on a permanent loop than watch another episode. But I’m doing it for you. For YOU. And I’m missing Spain v Tahiti in the football, too, which should be as hilarious a mismatch as Fontana v Zdenka.

(Apologies to Ms. Fontana, by the way: she was the first example that sprang to mind when I tried to think of a really bad recorded performance. Feel free to substitute your own)

Not only am I watching- even as I type- someone unwrap a secondhand mattress in the name of entertainment, but I’ve done something else for you. I have persuaded our beloved friend-of-the-blog to repeat 2011’s livechat experiment. He knows even more about singing than I know about premium lager, so you’re in for some added expertise.

In order to preserve his anonymity, he will again be appearing under his nom de guerre, the rather splendid ‘damegwynethjones’. It’s not her though. He’s far less squally.

NOTSOWUNDERBAR: So, we get Wales tonight. And Gerald Finley.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: I saw a FB comment yesterday from somebody who was in the hall, and they said it was a very exciting round. Mary agrees.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: But she has promised us an exciting night! Last night, that meant that they had been DOING REHEARSING, though. Josie has rechristened backstage 'The Holding Area' to make it more dramatic.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Dame Felicity seems kind of serious and tough.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: You wouldn't mess, would you?
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: I'm not sure we've discussed Petroc's beard. I'm rather liking it. Maybe he discovered the look in that Zimbabwean prison.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: So: Susana Gaspar Gary Griffiths Olena Tokar Yuri Gorodetski Egle Sidlauskaite. That was FAST typing. Egle first, off of Lithuania. She sounds proper deep and mezzoey. I like Petroc's beard too. He is heading towards silver daddy status.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: He is rather nice these days. My money is on Lithuania already. You're so good at making an effort with their names! I just keep saying 'the Egyptian girl' like some old buffer who was in the war.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Cool! Princess of Stock Cube first (I've made that joke before)
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Everybody has. Shame we missed the totally barnstorming opening. This editing is just ridiculous this year.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: The editing has been weird this year. Ha! Jinx.This isn't as abandoned as I'd like.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Maybe it was at the beginning. But she's not really carrying the momentum through the rests.And that top wasn't too secure really, was it.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: No. Pulls off the end though. Remember that Russian mezzo who was ace but they kept showing her cock up that bit?
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Yes. On the tiny bit we've heard, the lady from 2 years ago was more exciting.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Bit of an anodyne response from Finley, who I don't think was that impressed.This Dalila is already better.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: And maybe we're going to get the whole aria - unusually, they started at the beginning.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: She looks a bit like Garanca, doesn't she? Or am I being Balticist?
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: No, I think she sort of might. This is a bit plummy and manufactured, to my mind. I suspect the voice is HUGE and she's controlling it a tiny bit from the jaw because she's scared of how much noise she can really make. Yes, this is pop psychology/projection hour.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Wow, that's slow. Will she have asked for that, to show off her (impressive) breath control?
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: My impression is that these conductors do everything they're told, whether they agree with it or not, so yes. She kind of looks like something off a Greek vase. Very beautiful lady.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Oh, she didn't make ANYTHING of the big tune on 'Ah, verse moi'.Only one verse, so there must have been a big edit in the middle.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Has Dame Kiri cut up a curtain or something?
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: She is not the snappiest of dressers, our Dame K. Now then: direct comparison with Barton, although this is a Favorita not a Favorite.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Just nothing like as anchored. Although I hate that word.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: I think my big obsession this year might be Generic Frown Singing.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: She's tentative in what should be a comfortable low passage.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: I think you're right. When she opens up, she loses control, so she's kind of reining everything in. She's pitchy ('PITCHY' KLAXON) too.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: This is just nothing like as accomplished as Barton. Beautiful warm timbre in itself though. Mangled Italian vowels, vague consonants.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR:  There's something about her vib which tends towards flatness.*very carefully doesn't mention Rad*
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: I think maybe in a different way? I think this lady is just a bit low energy. Rad has an excess of it!
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Flatmate, from the sink: “Doesn't have much personality”. And he's right.The bottom of her voice sounds like a lyric struggling through Vitellia.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: I thought with a programme like this she'd be awesome. Mary will probably have something to say about repertoire.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Oooh, can we all say register break? Not equalised at all.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Thing is, she'd probably have sounded quite nice as Dorabella. There is a lovely warmth to the sound. But basically, not ready for this.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Half-hearted opera arms at the end! 'Shall I? Shall I? Oh, go on then'
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: You've got to get those arms in the air Grace, like a princess would!
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Disappointing. Petroc seems to have liked her though. And sorry, 'phenomenal strength at the top and bottom'? Was Finley listening?
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: I bet it was loud. But no, not assured at the top or the bottom.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: They all seem so SWEET in the offstage interviews. Now that I'm past 40 I get all avuncular and protective about them. Susana Gaspar now, Portuguese soprano. Pretty. Good expressive face.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Very nice in this rehearsal. And totally unflustered by that long high note at the end of stridono lassu.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Depressing that the Lisbon opera theatre might close. Was that the end of 'Stridono lassu' I heard? Ha, I guess it was. But she’s starting with Bellini’s Juliet.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Hard to start with long bel canto lines. But this isn't as good as I want it to be.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR:  She is wearing a frock of two halves, ladies and gentlemen. A lovely deep green skirt, with a kind of washing-day bra top.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: I like her voice a lot, but she needs to not be slightly sharp on every nore.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: She's reminding me every so slightly of Zeani/Soviero - slightly stressed sounding. Which I kind of like in a lyric
NOTSOWUNDERBAR:  (a nore is like a note, but mistyped) Zeani I can hear. She hasn't got that Leontyne smokiness that makes Soviero so special though.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES:  (every is similar to ever, but mistyped)
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Bloody hard, this. And she didn't quite get there. Promising, though. Mary finds her classy and dignified, which are things you say about The Queen, not about an opera singer.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: One thing I'll say for Dame Kiri - she smiles warmly at every single one of them when they finish a number. It's really lovely.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Yes, I'd noticed that. Janowitz did that too, the year she judged.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Dame Gwyneth didn't. She just looked non-plussed.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Ah, the Enfant Prodigue aria. Or, as I call it, 'If it ain't Cotrubas, I ain't listening'. This is very pretty singing but it's such dull music.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: I thought we weren't even going to mention it because it's Debussy. The one time I saw Kate Royal in recital, she did this as an encore, which was a kicking way to liven things up and send us all out on a high.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Hahaha! 'I will now sing Kindertotenlieder'
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: She is doing a good job of this though. She is a lovely lyric with a decent bit of individuality.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: If we're right about the Leoncavallo, though, she's chosen well. Three different styles. She sounds stressed here, (the cries of 'Azael') but it's dumb writing for the voice.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Yes. Could have been better. Pity. Nice singer, not a BBC Cardiff Singer Of The Known Universe though.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Oh, I love the big sweet smile before the Nedda! Bringing the house into the hall.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: I really like this.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Me too. Stratas-y, before Stratas just started screaming her head off.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: I quite fancy that beardy flautist too, have been thinking that all week. It's all about beards these days. I really only know Stratas as Salome, Despina and Santuzza.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Ha, the usual parts...I have missed the beardy flautist. I shall watch out. She looks like Juliana Margulies circa ER, but sweeter.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: She has a lovely face. She is quite endearing in general.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Oh yes. STORMED the end. That's actually one of the best versions of that aria I've ever heard.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: It was brill. Christ, Cabell won in 2005?! It only seems like the other week. That's a gorgeous voice.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: I don't know much about her. People seem divided. So, Mr Wales. Gary Griffiths, which sounds like a made-up name for a sitcom. He's brought his own choir!
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Teeny bit camp? Or is that just Welsh accents?
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: He's got a beard. Haud yersel' back. Ok, he's really really good.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Yes. I was going to say terrible choice of piece (Finch’han dal vino’)for a competition, but actually he's managing to show off a very beautiful timbre in something that normally turns into frantic bawling.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Yes, it's nearly always badly sung by not Thomas Allen. Did he corpse himself as he started the Onegin aria?
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: I hear a frog. Bit less comfortable here?
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Really? I think this is lovely. Much better than Mr Russia, who you like, wrongly.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Seems a bit unsettled to me. I bet he can sing the pants off this, but I don't think he is here. Brilliant voice.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: He's not cold and condescending enough for Onegin, but I suppose that would be a brave choice in concert.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Going for a top f? You're right. More of a jolly fuzzy bear. No top f, let the record reflect.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: LOVELY at the end. Just lovely. And yes, there were husky moments, but he's my favourite so far. Oh joy unconfined, the universe has heard my plea for some Amboise Thomas /sarcasm
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Of all the things he could have sung.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: He's stopped acting! He doesn't know what to do! Oh that's better. He's back.Interesting fact: he's kind of hot until he's shot in profile, when he isn't at all.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Don't mention the trill.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: What trill, etc etc etc. I'm a little teapot arms a little unfortunate at the end. Don't like the mimed drinking. Winner so far?
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Not sure. I wasn't as convinced as you were by him. But I guess probably, on balance. Need to get a glass of charders, hang on. So Dame Kiri's pearls were stunning, in that clip.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: A reminder while you were away that Nafornita didn't win her heat. Then a bit of Je Veux Vivre,
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Hadn't realised that about Nafornita. Re this next lady: People who feel the need to tell you they have a big voice are always suspect, IMO.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Olyana from Ukraine now, showing off her Big Voice with, um Handel. This is lovelyish, yes?
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: I know! They always offer me unsuitable roles for my big voice! So I'm going to show them my... Cleopatra! Yes to lovelyish. She's not making it easy for herself with all this delicate piano stuff. But she's mostly managing it.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Winner, if she carries on like this.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Agree. Massive audience reaction.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Another crazy edit. Oooh, Come Scog. Promising the way she changed the set of her face before beginning: actor. Oh well I mean this is brilliant.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Yes it is. Far better than last night.
 NOTSOWUNDERBAR: (apart from one unfortunate breath, but we'll let her have that) Flubbed the C a bit, but not unacceptably so.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: (and a slightly unfortunate passage through the high c) Oh, snap. It was just a bit out of line. It's a stupid c anyway.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: She wears a red frock damn well, too. Very castable. YOU LEAVE THAT C ALONE I LOVE THAT C
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Yes. Dubious taste when it comes to the hair style, but she can get help with that. Sorry Jon. I love it too. It just doesn't love others. She has a very complex and rich sound.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Great ending. She's way out in front. 'Totally sensational' says Mary. I love love love 'Gluck das mir verblieb'. Too bad they’ve jumped a verse. She's already the finished article, isn't she? Kind of pointless to edit the way they did. Thirty seconds of singing and a long orchestral playout.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Pretty much. I'd actually like her to sing out more. But she's very clever to have learnt how not to.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Did not fall foul of Mary's bête noire! Oh, and maybe she was right about the big voice bit. Still don't see why she feels the need to point it out though. Josie understands Ukranian!
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Look!This man can juggle! How important and relevant!
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: But Jon, it's just like being an opera singer.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: This guy is smashing. Sounds like Calleja. A little nasal, but otherwise lovely. In DESPERATE need of having his barnet chopped, mind.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Yeah, I'm not loving the way it goes via the nose to the top. I'm not loving the timbre generally actually, but I think he's so impressive, probably carries amazingly in the hall (like Calleja does, as you say), and he seems to be able to do exactly what we want. Very employable indeed.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Oh, sorry readers: we are talking about Yuri Gorodetski, Belorussian tenor, singing Una Furtiva Lagrima.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: The boy needs to have some sandwiches though.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Every one of these singers is better than every one of last night's. Apart from maybe the mezzo.Yes to sandwiches and cake and pie. His cummerbund is all sad and skinny.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: That c was a real shame.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Oh dear. Gounod tripped him up. That was a hell of a crack at the top. C is killing all the tenors this year.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: I guess the most recent soprano has it - no comparable flubs in her performance. Had he not had that disaster I'd have been unsure how to call it.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: ANOTHER clumsy edit in the lensky aria. This is vvg though. Yes, he's superpromising, but she was so solid and secure she has to have it. And actually I think she is just better than him anyway. He's lovely but he can only really do 'soulful'.. And it's not just the C, his top is a bit wing-and-a-prayer generally.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: I'm kind of getting bored of his timbre. Is that a really horrible thing to say?
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: No, me too. He's unvarying vocally and interpretatively.
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: I think it's cut and dried then.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: So since he seems to sing Mozart everywhere, why did he try to sing bigger stuff?
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: You read Mary's mind!
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: I think we should mention that Finley said 'squillo'
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: Gerry agrees with me on the Welsh bloke - not in his comfort zone.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Anyone you'd put in the final apart from Miss Ukraine?
DAMEGWYNETHJONES: I would still hope to hear Barton, Broderick and Miss Ukraine.
NOTSOWUNDERBAR: Yeah. Still no men. Wales and Belorus came close though. So, Ukraine wins. Ben Johnson tomorrow, who didn't blow me away at ENO. But we shall see. Thanks for chatting! I had better make the flatmate some pasta now.

So there you have it, readers. Ms Ukraine is very special, Ms Portugal is just lovely, I made my flatmate some pasta, and if anyone ever asks if you want to watch ‘Storage Wars’, run like your life depended on it. See you in Round 4!