May. 13th, 2012

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Time for a garden post now.

It's that time of year again.  The time when the azalea and rhododendron are in their prime. 

I should probably have done a special feature on our azalea and rhododendron, but by the time I stopped footering around with the garden and got round to the photography, I'd lost a lot of direct sunlight and was limited in my choices for photographs. 

A view across the front garden now.  The big weeping silver pear on the corner is now in flower, and there are a few azalea and rhododendron visible in shot:-

The pale flowers in the distance, just in front of the weeping silver pear, belong to a rhododendron of the variety called 'Hoppy'.  I'm sure I chose it in the first place because I liked the name as much as anything else, but it is rather pretty:-

The back garden is quite quiet just now, while we wait for the poppies and the aquileagia to leap into action, but there are a few favourites in bloom.  Particularly the auriculas:- 


I keep meaning to buy more auricula, but they're tricky little beggars to grow successfully, and I'm keen to get hold of some of the really pretty and exotic ones which are available from specialist growers.

I've also built up my first pot.  I'm hoping I'm not being premature with this one, but I'm pretty sure our frosts are finally finished, and if the worst comes the worst, I can do something drastic like drag it into the porch overnight.

Anyway, I opted for a pelargonium as the central feature, with petunia, surfinia and bacopa accompanying.  I've still got a couple of gaps, so I might shove in some lobelia when they finally arrive:-

What the group photograph doesn't show, unfortunately, is the flower of the pelargonium, which is absolutely lovely.  It's Geranium Species Sidoides, which came courtesy of The Vernon Geranium Co., and it's a wee cracker:-

I'm looking forward to seeing how it progresses throughout the year, as it becomes established.

Watch this space!!

And today it's wet and windy, so I'm going to do some writing.  Woo hoo!!
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I just caught up with the last minute or so of the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition, which conjured up strange bittersweet memories of my teenage years as a keen, over-ambitious and completely starry-eyed French horn player.

I entered that competition way back in the mid 1980s, and managed to get through to the Scottish finals.  It was intense, it was stressful, and I was gutted that I never got further, but...  Looking back on it all, I wouldn't have swapped it for the world.

Throughout most of school years, I learned under the good-humoured guidance of Christopher Griffiths, who at that time played in the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.  It was Chris who managed to convince me that I really wasn't blinkered enough to attend music college, and that university was the place for me. 

He was right, of course.

Back in those days, I had occasional lessons with another great musician, the one and only Ifor James.  My school weren't happy about letting me take time off to go travelling up north to Aberdeen three times a term for a music lesson, but my parents were supportive, at least.

Ifor's lessons were inspirational.  He had views on everything.  From historical novels to horse-riding, from archaeology to writing.  He was enthusiastic when I came swanning in with dreams of success and stardom as a soloist.  And he listened intently when I told him that I'd finally let go of my dream to play the French Horn in a professional capacity and that I'd decided to take up archaeology.  At a time when I was suffering under the dictatorship of a new teacher in my university days, he reminded me that I still loved the horn, and coaxed out of me some of the best performances I've ever done.  Some of the pieces I remember playing in his lessons were the Hindemith horn sonata, the Villanelle by Dukas, Beethoven's horn sonata and Strauss 1. 

And of all bizarre things, it was Ifor James who proved to be the common link which broke the ice when I was given the phone number of an eminent Scottish historian and expert on King James IV who just so happened to play the French horn and who was another ex-pupil of the Aberdeen Music School at which Ifor was a visiting professor.

I knew Ifor wasn't immortal, but through the years I've dreaded stumbling across his obituary.  As a result, I haven't really looked for it.  But seeing the YMOTY on the Beeb stung me into action, and tonight, I actually carried out the web-search I'd been dreading.

As I'd suspected, the world has indeed lost Ifor.  He died in 2004, the same year as my mother.  And just like my mother, it was cancer that claimed him.  They say things happen in threes: 2004 stole my mother (a talented amateur opera singer) and my Aunty O (a frustrated former professional opera singer), of course, but until tonight, I hadn't even realised that in this same cataclysmic year, I also lost one of the most influential mentors of my teenage years.

Ifor was always one for the ladies.  I'd like to think he was having a great time in the afterlife, chatting up my mum and my aunt and talking music in the company of the musical great and the good. 

What's even more peculiar is that Ifor prepared for his imminent demise by making a number of videos featuring his teaching tips.  So even now, his enthusiasm and his brilliance lives on. 

For those of you who are interested, here's a link:-

Thanks, Ifor.  I might not be much of a French horn player these days, but I know full well that you helped shape me into the individual I am today...


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