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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries
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Plastered!

Life can often play cruel tricks. I’ve been skiing twice this season with no consequential damage to anything other than my dignity. Yet on 1 April during a casual walk in the countryside by the village of Upper Slaughter I slipped and sustained a nasty ankle injury. After an exciting ride in a helicopter I spent nine nights in Cheltenham General Hospital under the careful supervision of, inter alia, a Mr Butcher. The male orthopaedic ward consisted of two types of patient – the deaf and the not so deaf. I fell in the latter group but the former were very elderly folk whose every syllable of each conversation was audible to those in the second category. As the moon rose there seemed to be a collective hallucinogenic stirring of consciousness as drugs, age, and memories played havoc with frail minds. One chap dreamt vividly of a fire and asked for the fire brigade but in his panic discovered that he could not remember the number. An adjacent 94-year-old ex-bank manager helpfully joined his dream and suggested he look in the telephone directory. All such dialogue took place at maximum decibels and at dead of night. I had some idea of what Bedlam must have been.

Perfect imperfectionMy own sanity was preserved in hospital by reading and listening to music. The oddest moment occurred early one morning in pre-dawn fitfulness when I found myself listening to Cecilia Bartoli’s Salieri album. My admiration for Miss Bartoli has no bounds, as regular readers will know, but on this occasion I found the singing so mannered, arch, and eccentric I could not maintain my interest. Instead, I put on a recording of Horowitz’s return to Carnegie Hall in 1965. The Sony set released in 2003 has the live unedited performance with all the fluffs. It’s the keyboard equivalent of Callas’s singing in which you forgive all the imperfections because it is so thrilling. The opening piece is Busoni’s transcription of Bach’s Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C and hearing this as dawn broke I was transported back to 1973 when I selected the Fugue as the processional music after my wedding. Horowitz is simply stunning. The most memorable fiction read was The Story of Lucy Gault by William Trevor. A charming and poignant tale of a Protestant family in Cork in 1921, this a delight and I am grateful to the pal who lent me both the books and the CD player.Road to recoveryBack home in plaster, and generally housebound, I am enjoying more media – TV, DVD, CD, books, and radio. My greatest discovery has been the 1950 film Born Yesterday, and I am unsure how I have never seen it. In it Judy Holliday has a smile to melt granite and a New Jersey voice that would curdle milk. This George Cukor adaptation of a stage play is a variant of the Pygmalion story in which William Holden ‘educates’ the mistress of a rich, boorish scrap metal merchant (Broderick Crawford). It’s also a diatribe against corruption in Washington but the serious message does not interfere with the humour or eventual romance. The film is irresistible as are two others I have now managed to see. The 1997 Spanish production Carne trémula (Live Flesh) by Pedro AlmodÓvar is based on a Ruth Rendell story but this raunchy black comedy has a distinctly Iberian treatment which is a joy. Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet and actress Audrey Tautou followed up the magic of Amélie with their 2004 production of Un long dimanche de fiançailles (A Very Long Engagement) in which the cinematography, colour, pace, and characterisation are all one could desire. Miss Tautou is mesmerising, as ever, and by the time you read this you may already have seen her in The Da Vinci Code.Anna Russell’s achingly funny live recitals from the 1950s include the spoof coloratura aria ‘Canto dolciamente pipo’ which reminded me suddenly of Miss Bartoli! Her second CD of pastiches, again from the 1950s, has ‘Wir gehen in den Automaten’ which is an hilarious lied about an egg and bacon breakfast. I am a great fan of Peter Ackroyd and the latest in his Brief Lives series is about Newton. It’s a modest tome and a perfect inspirational summary of his contribution to society. This was certainly best in the non-fiction category. Daniel Barenboim’s Reith lectures on Radio 4 were thoughtful and fascinating. The key messages in his first three lectures were that we have to learn to hear again, rely less on visual stimuli, and banish Muzak. His belief in music’s potential as a political healer is now well known.For the first time in many years I did not attend theatre or concert hall during the course of a month. The National Theatre actually refunded ticket money after I sent them X-rays of the hardware. But in early May I planned an escape to hear the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra playing Gershwin and Bernstein. Carpe diem.

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