Princesses and pigeons, birds of a feather

THE CRITICS

IT may begin in a small, fairly harmless way, but the trouble is that it becomes obsessive. No, no, dear reader, not bulimia, just read a bit more. What starts with a little discreet billing and cooing can rapidly develop into something steamier. A higher authority must intervene before courtship goes too far. The moment comes when separation is in everyone's interests. He must be sent away from her so that he can get on with fulfilling the destiny to which he has been born, bred and expensively educated. No, really, this is not another column offering advice to an unhappy couple. It's about pigeons.

Is that a relief? Are you still with me? Right then, here is some astonishing information. Racing pigeons have very low-pitched hearing. When the amorous cock is released from his basket, in some distant railway station, he is guided by the sounds of the sea. Even in north London, he can hear the Channel, keeping him on track for home, where his hen is waiting in eager anticipation for her night of treading - yes, that's what it's called, honestly.

Except that north London is not where he's likely to feather his nest. The expert on last week's Midweek (R4), who produced this arcane stuff, only prepared us for the real thing. On Wednesday Jennifer Holden, sounding as innocent and ingenuous as Princess D - sorry, as can be - went to Redditch to beard This Happy Breed (R4) of fanciers in their lofts, wherein no woman ever sets foot. Here Eric and Derek, tough-talking tattooed pigeon- men, opened their hearts to her. One of them even invited her to feel his hen's very secret places, to prove that she was indeed in egg - the pigeon, that is. A wife grimly remarked that if she'd had feathers she'd get more attention, but then wives often feel like that. Actually, there's a Royal Loft at Sandringham.

Not far from Redditch another drama was going on. Alex Jones's play Lightbulbs (R4) was ridiculous. Spooky supernatural stories need some logic to keep you half-believing. Set in the Black Country, this one presented a ghost- baby which returned to life then faded out and back like a light bulb on the blink. When dead Aunty Dot reappeared in the garden shed and we were asked to credit zombies in Tesco's, well, pshaw. Anyway, in our house light bulbs just go pop.

Lighten Our Darkness (WS) was more fun. Roger Fenby clearly had a lovely time watching the sunrise in the thin clear air of the Austrian Alps: it shone through his voice. A seriously know-all American professor-of-everything pontificated about the nature of light, which was a shame, but a fighter pilot made up for him. High in the sky, just before dawn, returning from patrolling the Channel, he was dazzled as the sun burst searingly over the horizon: then he dropped thousands of feet into darkness and saw it all over again. After that, Fenby described brilliant morning light streaming into a tiny alpine church: the picture remained, burning on the retina of the ear.

The celebrations of Purcell's tercentenary came to an end in all the splendid panoply of a grand concert, Purcell 300 (R3), in Westminster Abbey (see Michael White's review, opposite). But before that came Mask (R3), an extraordinarily powerful evocation of the character of the man himself. It was dominated by the strong, rough-hewn voice of Nicky Henson, as Purcell the street-wise Londoner, looking back on a life packed with incident, dominated by thousands of deaths from plague and fire, blessed with healing cynicism.

Henson's was a bravura performance, now talking urgently on a mobile phone about the cost of commandeering 10 counter-tenors and a consort of viols, now reminiscing tenderly about his wife, now marvelling at the power of music to teach him about God, about death, about the sick feeling of falling in love. Claire Randall's superior production juxtaposed Ian Burton's jagged, glittering text with Ron Geesin's pastiche Baroque score. It was enough to make you want the whole year to start again.

But it's no good. You can't really expect to escape the washing of dirty royal linen when your critic has been through the mangle of vox pops, gruesome Nicholas Soames, and ubiquitous, oleaginous Jonathon Porritt on every channel. Even Purcell himself seemed caught up in it. Mask had one splendid line on the subject: as the virtues of royalty - justice, mercy, courage, devotion - were intoned, Henson as Purcell growlingly derided "the vain, egotistical, poxy reality" of it all. And one further comment from a woman who chose to Call Nick Ross (R4) with a fine historical point: if Anne Boleyn had had access to the media, she said, she'd have done just the same. Yes, Madam, and look what happened to her.

Two more media events filled up all remaining airspace. The Beatles' dreary new song thumped endlessly, remorselessly from every hole in my radio and the Children in Need appeal galloped heroically out against all this fearsome competition. Hooray for them. At the last hearing, Terry Wogan's contribution, a jungle remix of "The Floral Dance" which embarrasses him so much that he is incapable of playing more than a minute of it, is edging ahead of the once Fab Four in the charts. So there is some justice after all. Perhaps.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

    £28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

    Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

    £22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

    Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

    £22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

    Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

    £40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

    Day In a Page

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor