A bizarre but admittedly exhilarating thing happened to me this afternoon. I received a phone call at work from an employee of the Prime Minister’s Office wanting my advice. A pretty damning indictment of the country if David Cameron’s getting his staff to cold-call junior library assistants to find out what he should do, you might think, but given the announcement made at lunchtime that the nation’s forests weren’t going to be cut down and sold to the French or whatever the plan was, I was feeling better disposed towards the government than is my custom. So I stayed on the line.
I’ve only just begun, but permit me a diversion. It is not every day that one is called upon by one’s country, and I found my mind wandering to this dream, caught and catalogued by Roald Dahl’s BFG:
THE TELLYFONE RINGS IN OUR HOUSE AND MY FATHER PICKS IT UP AND SAYS IN HIS VERY IMPORTANT TELLYFONE VOICE ‘SIMPKINS SPEAKING’. THEN HIS FACE GOES WHITE AND HIS VOICE GOES ALL FUNNY AND HE SAYS ‘WHAT! WHO?’ AND THEN HE SAYS ‘YES SIR I UNDERSTAND SIR BUT SURELY IT IS ME YOU IS WISHING TO SPEKE TO SIR NOT MY LITTLE SON?’ MY FATHER’S FACE IS GOING FROM WHITE TO DARK PURPEL AND HE IS GULPING LIKE HE HAS A LOBSTER STUCK IN HIS THROTE AND THEN AT LAST HE IS SAYING ‘YES SIR VERY WELL SIR I WILL GET HIM SIR’ AND HE TURNS TO ME AND HE SAYS IN A RATHER RESPECKFUL VOICE ‘IS YOU KNOWING THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES?’ AND I SAYS ‘NO BUT I EXPECT HE IS HEARING ABOUT ME.’ THEN I IS HAVING A LONG TALK ON THE FONE AND SAYING THINGS LIKE ‘LET ME TAKE CARE OF IT, MR PRESIDENT. YOU’LL BUNGLE IT ALL UP IF YOU DO IT YOUR WAY.’ AND MY FATHER’S EYES IS GOGGLING RIGHT OUT OF HIS HEAD AND THAT IS WHEN I IS HEARING MY FATHER’S REAL VOICE SAYING GET UP YOU LAZY SLOB OR YOU WILL BE LATE FOR SKOOL.
Well, it wasn’t quite like that. It was like this. A foreign dignitary is coming to visit (a Head of State, no less). We want to give him a CD as a present – something British. What should we do?
The power of being given such a responsibility! Well, my first thought was this, but apparently the recipient isn’t Christian, so choirs singing churchy music are out. But he is devoted to organ music, so what about that?
Who is this man? I wondered. Surely I’d have heard if Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, say, was coming to Britain. Not very likely, given how much he loathes us. But what if he were making a top-secret visit that had to be kept positively hush-hush? Could I possibly pinpoint some music that would alter such a man’s perspective on the world, even curtail the pernicious spread of Islamic fundamentalism? It might take a bit more than a CD to do that. On the other hand, if I were to make a bad choice, might it expedite the start of that third world war we’ve all been expecting right about now? We all know how music can affect the mood. And that doesn’t even take into account the possibility of a major blunder like Barack Obama’s gift to Gordon Brown of a DVD box set of classic American films – all of them Region 1.
So I played it safe and advised Robert Quinney’s universally lauded recording of the organ of Westminster Cathedral, or either of John Robinson’s recent recordings from Carlisle Cathedral – his recital of mainly English music, or his traversal of the complete organ music of S.S. Wesley. The charming lady I spoke to suggested something involving the organ of the Royal Albert Hall, citing its status as the second largest organ in Britain, but my own experience is that size is no indication of quality where organs are concerned.
It turned out that Robert Quinney himself had already been called earlier in the day, but it was nice to feel important for a few seconds. If the Iranians stop putting gays to death, I am happy to take some of the credit.