We’re all eating our sentences. “No way” creeps through “OK, maybe,” then “yes.”
Perhaps more severe is my Volte-face.
I joined the thousands who go outdoor swimming at the closure.
I don’t like swimming particularly much.
I’m not great at it.
I don’t like tosses and I prefer a year-round bottle of hot water. “You need a bobble hat,” I was told by my swim coach, recommending a clothing piece I haven’t owned since elementary school.
I am exposed to the wonders of neoprene, a fabric as unfamiliar to me as the lace of Chantilly.
I arrive at the appointed time, looking like Nanook of the North (admission is strictly timed).
A daily diehard compliments me for beginning this habit in a pandemic in mid-December.
But then, I’m already fully dressed and have not set foot in the water (5.6C). I’m too realistic to make it a New Year’s goal, but for the time being, I will hold it up. That’s why I do it. It makes me feel less, even a little brave, like a physical coward. Or briefly, it did. Then my cool buddy with the yellow Crocs sent me a tweet from Stig Abell – it turned out there was a lot of social media outrage. Here is a fact I learned recently.
No one who has swum in the wild has kept it a secret ever since records started. Why would you, Stig? Answer me this. Bum note For musicians, the low days of early January are quiet in anxiously anticipated, ordinary times. Aside from New Year’s concerts, it’s the only moment that classical music comes to rest. Even the tours take a break: as star pianist Stephen Hough put it, that nomadic sequence of “hugs to greet, hugs to leave,” Touring is how musicians of all stripes make their careers, not just classical ones.
It is part of the free cultural exchange that feeds back into the UK economy: £ 5.8 billion last year, adding more than four times as much to the economy as fishing (£ 1.4 billion). After that horrible year, when many quit the profession, a fresh blow was dealt. The post-Brexit deal does not contain arrangements for working musicians to travel visa-free. The effects are incalculable. Different entry requirements apply to each EU country. To make your head spin, the list of specifications is enough.
You must alert the police if you are traveling to Norway.
You may need the same certificate as for a live animal if you are transporting an old instrument with a tiny ivory insert.
Some politicians, including Tracy Brabin, the Labour MP for Batley and Spen, and the composer Michael Berkeley in the House of Lords, have taken up the cause.
213,500 signatures have already been collected on a petition asking for visa-free work permits. Sign it, yes.
Much of the New Year’s awards stories were rightly about the emergency responders who in 2020 saved lives and put their own on the line. Still, it’s great to see top musicians, including three pioneers, gaining recognition: conductor Jane Glover becomes a Dame, a knighthood goes to opera director Graham Vick, and a CBE to extraordinary opera entrepreneur Wasfi Kani. The daring work of Vick with the Birmingham Opera Company – really an opera for all – gave me the only experience of climbing into a black plastic bag (in Beethoven’s Fidelio) as a timid music critic. Pimlico Opera, Kani’s prison project, gave me a taste of life behind bars.
Saying that my musical experiences with her consisted of sitting quietly in a chair in a concert hall and listening is no insult to Glover.
The classical music critic for the Observer is Fiona Maddocks.