22 February 2017



Loveable new soprano ukulele bought in Denmark Street music shop yesterday and they even fitted my strap and metal strap button to it. So now all I have to do is learn to play it. One year? Two? We'll see.

That thing sticking out of my head is not a horn. It's the top of an easel.

New uke 1

new uke 2

new uke 3

new uke 4

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21 February 2017


The classes in the pub were fun and instructive. I learned that pressing down firmly on the strings, fingers and wrist of left hand twisted into required positions, then moving to different positions with new bends and stretches whilst simultaneously strumming down/down or up/down/up/ down in a carefree, rhythmical manner with the right hand, all the while hugging the uke flat against the body yet also bending my neck forward to see if fingers are correctly placed on the frets... .

Well, I learned that it is not a walk in the park for a short-necked, short-fingered person with stiff hands. The teacher was good-humoured, patient, competent and, seeing my struggles, he kindly gave me the last lesson one-to-one. I now know what to do. It's only a matter of training my bones to obey my brain.

I decided that some improvements to the instrument itself were needed if I was to make any progress. A shoulder strap, so that I could forget about holding the uke, would allow me to tilt it so that I might see where to put my fingers. To remember basic chord shapes I stuck coloured dots on the uke's neck and diagrams on its body. I bought a strap but, as my uke didn't have the posts to attach it, I cut and glued bits of wood for the screws to fit into. Then I got a set of good Aquila nylgut strings to replace the cheap nylon ones on my cheap little soprano uke, googled instruction videos on how to re-string the thing and proceeded to undertake this apparently simple task.

Not simple. More like fiendishly heart-stoppingly difficult. It's a long story but to summarise: the bridge broke when I was tightening a string. I thought I could save it it by gluing a new piece of wood over the broken section. I used Araldite, the strongest glue in the universe, everything looked perfect, I managed to restring the uke. I practiced. I was getting a tiny bit better at moving from one chord to another.

Then yesterday, without warning, suddenly, there was a loud bang or snap or bing or whatever sound four strings make when they've had enough and the entire bridge broke away, strings attached, from the ukulele's body. You can see the miserable wrecked little Aradilted bugger in the photos below as well as my now stringless and bridgeless ukulele. The strings are saved. I'm not giving up. I will buy another, slightly better uke and I will master a few chords, just enough to sing a few songs. I will.

Uke with strap

uke with chord dots

uke with broken bridge

uke with bottom button-holder

uke wit side button holder

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14 February 2017


Once upon a time
A man named Donald Trump
Entered a famous White House.
In history he will be known as Bump
Not only because it rhymes
And because of Humpty Dump
ty, but because history
Is an obstacle course
Littered with bumps.
That's why it's called an obstacle course
Of course
It's why destiny litters our time
All our times
With bumps.
To test us all
To find out if we'll fall
Or slump
Or dump
Or jump
Or overcome
When a Trump
By any other name
Appears on the bumpy racetrack
Of history.

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13 February 2017


This afternoon, at the Biblioteca Baldini in Rome, an important event to celebrate the late Gerardo Guerrieri and a new edition of his biography by Selene Guerrieri A Stage Full of Dreams. Below a video by Rocco Brancati shown on the occasion of another event a few days ago in Matera to inaugurate his own book on Guerrieri and a forthcoming documentary. The mayor of Matera announced that a street will be named after Gerardo Guerrieri.

I am so proud of my beloved, much missed brother-in-law Gerardo and of the extraordinary women he left behind - his wife, my sister Anne d'Arbeloff Guerrieri who founded the unique Teatro Club di Roma with Gerardo, and their two amazing daughters, Selene and Indira. Selene is speaking in this video.

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11 February 2017


Guilt and irritation mixed in equal parts - that's what I get when too much time passes between one post and the next one. Guilt because of a sense of failed duty, as if regular blogging is a real responsibility. Irritation because I know that's a delusion: I do not have a duty to blog. Anything which must be done is always an irritant. But what happens when something you freely choose to do slides down the slippery slope to MUSTNESS? As it generally does.

Do you have a file or shelf or cupboard or trunk or shed filled with things/projects which you began some time (days?months? years?) ago, flushed with energy, zip and zoom, pencils and tools and ideas sharpened, ready, willing and perfectly able to carry on and carry out? The next question is: how many of these have morphed into Duties (therefore irritants)? And how many are ongoing daily joys? Yes yes I know I know. Nothing is entirely one thing or another, it's a mix, sometimes duty, sometimes joy, and so on and on.

But what I want is the zip and zoom without Duty poking its infuriating head in. I want a foolproof recipe (designed for fools) for avoiding Duty whilst still getting things done. So there.

One of quite a number of things waiting on the shelf to be finished is my online autobio. To get in the zip/zoom mood I started looking at old photos. I have hundreds, maybe thousands of photos - my whole life (with just a few gaps) in photos. I don't know who took many of them, somebody must have, way back then.


Moi in Paris or environs. Don't understand the feet in this photo, they look like hooves.

Nathalie petite

By the sea somewhere in France, maybe Royan.


With my father in San Antonio, Paraguay.

Nat & family, Los Angeles

In Los Angeles with my parents, Sacha and Blanche, and my older sister Anne.

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25 January 2017


I want to say thank you and bravo to Gina Miller and colleagues for the courage, enterprise and informed committment, as ordinary (extraordinary) members of the public, concerned enough about upholding the rule of law to challenge the government itself.

Because of their action, what should/could have been obvious to everybody if they'd paid attention is now officially confirmed: Prime Minister Theresa May cannot trigger Article 50 without a Parliamentary vote - she wanted to zoom ahead, ignoring Parliament, and now she can't because the Supreme Court has declared it's against the law.

Brexit will still go ahead but this case is a historical victory, proof of what individuals can achieve without necessarily being politicians, pundits, prime ministers, presidents or any other Persons of Influence.

Gina Miller

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21 January 2017


Whatever others had in mind when the name of God was repeatedly invoked at the inauguration ceremony yesterday, it seems to me that Donald Trump's deity is a two-headed gold idol consisting of himself and money.

Billy Graham's son Franklin declared that the sudden downpour of rain was a holy omen. I felt that the heavenly host, wherever and however you define it or them, were shedding anguished tears.

But what do I know?

Trump swears in

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17 January 2017


Fascinating 'finissage' of the Call of the Wild exhibition yesterday at Natalia and Simon Zagorska Thomas' home and Studio Ex Purgamento with one-celled organisms behaving almost intelligently and Morse code going Dada and conversations ranging from this to that and every variation in between. Happy to have been there and looking forward to further eclectic/electric salons at ExPurg.

And tonight was my first ukulele lesson in a pub room near the BBC. It was fun even though my hands are too small, my fingers too short and fingertips so sissy that nylon strings hurt. The fingertip cushion skin toughens up after a while, I'm told. We learned and (sort of) strummed three chords and two songs and have homework. Teacher and students (about 12 of us) all very simpatico - a short course, once a week for 4 weeks. Hope to report on some progress at the end of it. At the moment my ukulele aptitude or ukitude, on a scale of 1 to 10, is approximately minus zero.

Ukulele anatomy

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14 January 2017


(Thanks to Marly Youmans for her comment to this post on Facebook today in which she brought up Time's Winged Chariot - it hadn't ocurred to me in connection to my mosquito and I love this connection!)

When you’re not as young as you used to be the month of January behaves like a mosquito. Not only does it keep on buzz buzz buzzing stupid cliches in your head likeTime is Marching On, You’re Not As Young as You Used To Be, The End is Nigher Than You Think and so on, but it’s also literally after your blood - allright that’s pushing it a bit, but how better to describe a month that won’t shut up about  how little time is still allotted to you in the chronoilllogical calendar of your life?

Even though my health and general joie de vivre are in good working order, thanks to God and my DNA and my ancestors and whatever other miracles may be responsible for such a blessing, there are frequent moments in January, possibly more than in other months, when I am struck  - nay, buzzed - by the awareness that not only am I not as young as I used to be but even older than I used to be a few minutes ago.

January mosquito

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9 January 2017


Still from 'The Silence'

Saw 'The Silence' yesterday. Here is The Guardian's review which gives the background and the story but in its heading needlessly highlights Liam Neeson who is not that significant in the film. He does a good job, as always, but that's not the point.

I thought the film was visually stunning, the script nuanced, the pace slow and unobtrusive enough to let you think, the directing/acting excellent from everyone but I agree with the Guardian that Adam Driver would have been better cast in Andrew Garfield's role. However I don't want to talk in cinematic terms (am incompetent to do so even if I wanted to). What interests me most in this film is that it leaves a door open for philosophical/ethical questions and doesn't attempt to answer them for you. 

Obvious questions regarding religious faith: 
If there is a God why is He/She/It silent in the face of suffering? 
Which religious or non-religious teachings are the kindest, truest, most beneficial to humans and to the world? 
Should any believers try to convert anyone to their beliefs, whether religious, atheist, political? 
What should you do about beliefs which threaten your existence, your culture, your identity? 
How important are symbols of your beliefs such as images, relics and other artefacts? 

What immediately came up as I left the cinema, got on a bus and took out my notebook (as usual when a thought seems worth jotting down) was the concept of heroism. Who is or is not a hero?
The martyrs who endure unspeakable torture rather than deny their faith?
The soldiers who accept torture and death in order to defend their country?
The conscientious objectors who refuse to fight in a war?
The Jew or Christian or Muslim or Hindu or member of any other denomination who denies being of that race or faith in order to save him/herself and family from extermination?
The child who refuses to snitch on a classmate who has done some dreadful deed?
The whistleblower who publicly reveals information which will wreck his/her life but will expose serious wrongdoings?

And what about symbols: flags for instance. Desecrating their country's flag is seen as a crime by some, whereas they may see others' veneration of an image or a book as nonsense.

I don't have answers. But I welcome a film which elicits hard questions.

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3 January 2017


I was in a queue for the train to Paris once, probably before Eurostar, and right in front of me were an attractive couple. I recognised the man: it was John Berger. The woman maybe his wife, maybe not. I knew what he looked like from author photos but the vitality fizzing from him could not have been captured in any still images. I very much wanted to speak with him but only if it was a real conversation and I couldn't think of any way to initiate that. Besides, the couple were talking to each other and I didn't want to interrupt. I love his work but don't know how to be anyone's fan - don't believe in fandom (not even the fandom of the opera) So I missed that opportunity. 

Just as I missed another fan-op many many years ago when I was only a tiny pre-teen and George Sanders, my then-hero, was actually literally in the same elevator with me in the very same brownstone house in New York City where I lived at the time with my parents and where my hero's mistress, Zzzazza Gabor, also had an apartment. Fate, in its occasional whimsical generosity, gave me another chance to approach this particular hero of mine many years later (1972) at the airport in New York, on my way back to London: George Sanders, my George Sanders, was there in the pre-boarding area, wrapped in a fur-collared coat, looking grey and grim and old. I desperately wanted to speak to him and again could not think of anything to say - "I love you" would have been stupid. I didn't know then that he was on his way to die by his own hand in an anonymous hotel room somewhere in Spain. I read the obituary when I was back home.

RIP long-gone George Sanders. RIP gone only yesterday John Berger. Wherever you are, see you there one day.

John Berger

George Sanders

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