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The Titfield Thunderbolt
Heisenberg might have stayed here
First, a Happy New Year everyone.

I finished reading Alec Guinness' quasi-autobiography Blessings in Disguise just before Christmas, and serendipitously watched the BBC2 Arena programme about him earlier this week. The two complemented each other, as the book was largely enjoyable and entertaining, with a rather dreary and long chapter about religion, which clearly caused Guinness some discomfort through the years. Perhaps his illegitimacy and (maybe) bisexuality provided him with too many unanswered questions. The TV programme laboured on these themes, as such Reputations-style documentaries are wont to do, but nevertheless surveyed his achievements on stage and screen.

What has this got to do with Famous Belgians, I hear you ask? Well, there is an anecdote in the book about the filming of Kind Hearts and Coronets, in which, inter alia, Guinness portrayed the dispatching of Lady Agatha D'Ascoigne in a balloon. He felt the insurance was insufficient, so the balloonist was required to double for the distance shots ... "Contempt was written on all faces. Belgium's greatest balloonist [nameless] was dressed and be-wigged as Lady Agatha and sailed away. And away. At speed. And then out of sight. The wind took over and the poor man was found some fifty miles away, floundering in a long skirt in the Thames estuary where he had been forced to ditch."

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I am now the proud owner of a copy of Bach's The Bad-Tempered Clavier (Book 1) and Busoni's piano transcription of the Toccata and Fugue (BWV565). I am most impressed by the quality of the transcription, which I heard on Radio 3 a few weeks ago. The layout of the notes seems bizarre in one or two octave passages ... until I realised that the octaves are sometimes shared between both hands, which improves the legato quality of the music enormously. Over time I hope my playing of the piece will improve likewise. Congratulations to Mr Busoni, though from the preface I don't think his ego needed any boosting anyway.


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