Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Diary excerpts 6 — walking to work edition

November 30, 2016

7 January
Chalked on the back of a lorry in Trinity Street: HAPPY XMAS MUMMY

17 March
Seen on the way to work today: a builder singing ‘Cowabunga’ to the tune of the Hallelujah Chorus, and a cyclist wearing a baseball cap with horns attached.

12 April
Woman dragging her heels in front of me this morning. When I got to where she’d been dawdling, I saw why – a female blackbird hopping about on a wheelie bin. Just the most beautiful of birds. I didn’t care for blackbirds as a boy, I liked the showy ones, kingfishers and peacocks, even pigeons with their shiny feathers.

pigeon-at-st-pauls

13 May
On the way to work this morning: a father bending down to kiss his 10-year-old son as they walked to St Luke’s. A swan with a titanic wingspan flapping under Magdalene Bridge. Boulez on a bike. Daniel Zeichner. A male blackbird alighting on the King’s Parade wall, flapping his wings and stomping his tail and tweeting vociferously. I wanted to put him in a little box.

18 September
Senses simultaneously heightened and blurred by slight drunkenness last night. Waking up with my voice a fifth lower because of the beer, singing along with songs down the octave as I got dressed, humming pedal D’s on ‘Mir ist so wunderbar’ as I walked to work.

22 September
A few days ago I walked past a dead pigeon on the pavement at the bottom of the road. I didn’t stop to inspect it, but it appeared to have died peacefully, albeit surrounded by its own droppings. Now the body is gone, but the droppings remain. Can a bird shit itself to death, I find myself wondering.

29 September
Listened to the first movement of Brahms 2 (Harnoncourt) as I walked to work through the teeming rain. A realisation later that Brahms is my great hero, maybe my greatest hero, for that piece as much as for anything else. It’s remarkable.

3 November
It’s not every day you get leered at on the way to work by a ponytailed man carrying a banana in a threatening manner. Just some days.

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Diary excerpts 5

August 24, 2016

4 January
Today I worked out why the Cambridge Librarians in Training group calls itself Camlit.

13 January
Les Troyens from the Met at cinema today. Wondered why the Trojans were discussing Shakespeare, then realised they were singing ‘J’expire’.

20 January
A reading at evensong tonight about the impossibility of circumcision reversal. I shake my head, as if in regret. A man opposite laughs.

29 January
There’s usually an appropriate German word and it’s usually Sehnsucht. The feeling you get on looking up at someone’s window.

5 February
Walking home, ‘Le vent dans la plaine’ came on and I found myself thinking of J when we were sixteen and seventeen, talking about Zimerman and the Debussy preludes and playing two-piano improvisations for what felt like ages but might have been as little as half an hour or 45 minutes, and realising I’d found something important.

8 February
New German reader appears at the desk: ‘Am I right here?’ Hard to say no.

15 February
Granny is 88 today, and opening birthday cards with a knife. ‘Careful or we’ll be off to A&E!’ ‘I’d rather bleed to death.’

21 February
A man in a fluorescent jacket humming ‘Voi che sapete’ in Sainsbury’s.

10 March
You can tell how reliable someone is as a person by their past library fines. L is in his final year and has 38 books out but has never had a fine (and I suspect never will). I would quite readily give him a job here for life.

14 March
On Cesc Fàbregas: ‘His father was made of fibreglass and his mother was some wood shavings.’

Cesc

King’s College School miscellanea

July 16, 2016

A month ago I picked a slim volume, R.J. Henderson’s 1981 History of King’s College Choir School, Cambridge, off a library bookshelf, hoping it might provide some entertaining anecdotes. It did.

A History of King's College Choir School

The school was founded alongside King’s College in 1441 to provide somewhere for the choristers to be educated, and has grown into a co-educational prep school on West Road, a place I used to walk past in student days to get to the Music Faculty. The book’s fun, full of details from dusty archives and the unpublished memoirs and diaries of its members, and features plenty of people called e.g. Scrope, which is reassuring.

Two eccentrics spring off the page, the first being Charles R. Jelf, Headmaster from 1912 to 1927:

It might be thought that a headmaster who had accepted the post of Master over the Choristers at King’s College might well believe in the spiritual value of choral services and that the school existed primarily for the benefit of the choristers. On the contrary, Jelf’s extraordinary mixture of Anglo-Catholicism and Evangelicalism produced an attitude of derision towards the chapel services, which he openly decried as being nothing more than a concert of sacred music. He himself was a vicar-warden of St Giles, which he attended regularly with his family but, although he attended all chapel services, he derived little inspiration from them.

A similar contradiction was his extraordinary attitude that Oxford was superior to Cambridge in every respect. He refused to pay King’s College the compliment of incorporating as an MA of Cambridge University, wore an Oxford hood in chapel and never dined in College, although entitled to do so.

The other is his successor, the scatterbrained Cedric Moulton Fiddian:

Having sent a boy to his study to be disciplined at 9.30 in the morning Fiddian then forgot about him until, on returning to his study at four o’clock in the afternoon, he asked him why he was waiting there. The boy did not know, nor for that matter did Fiddian, who sent him back into school. On another occasion the headmaster instructed [senior matron] Miss Aikin to prepare a bed for a new boarder, a brother of one Bayliss, already at the school. The new boy was to arrive that evening. A brief remonstration from the matron that Bayliss was an only child was quickly waved aside. An hour later a shame-faced headmaster was forced to apologise and explain that he had only just that day opened the letter advertising the arrival of the ‘real’ Bayliss, who in fact had entered the school three years earlier. Like a good deal of Fiddian’s correspondence, it had disappeared under a sea of books and papers.

~~~

Some time ago I found a 1979 copy of the school magazine Fleur-de-Lys, from which I excerpt the following story, a magnificent tribute to a young girl’s imagination:

IF I WASN’T ME

I was madly in love with my pony, Misty, and I said to my dad, “Could I marry Misty?” and he said, “Of course you can’t,” and I said, “Why not?” and in the end he said, “Oh, all right,” and we married. The next day we got married. Only my sister came to the wedding. The next day I was grooming Misty and I looked in his water trough and realised I was a horse. The previous day dad had been told that there was a pony coming that I had to look after and he mistook me for that pony and he gave me some oats which I thought was the most disgusting stuff I had ever had and I spat it all over my dad and he was furious. Misty said that was delicious and kept on teasing me so a divorcement was made.

K.H., aged 10

~~~

If this sort of thing piques your interest, see also the brilliant King’s College Choir Book edited by Jonathan Rippon and Penny Cleobury, published in 1997. Full of delightful details, including this letter home from a 1950s choirboy that anticipates The Very Hungry Caterpillar:

Dear Mummy + Daddy,

I hope you received the Travel Form. Please return it as soon as possible

Last night was Founders Feast I ate.

1 Tongue sandwich
1 cheese     ”     (Dutch cheese)
2 chocolate biscuits
1 sausage roll
1 Orange
1 Ice
1 Banana
1 Apple
6 Dates
1 Candy sweets
3 glasses orangeade

BUT it was spoilt by Poor Nicholas (Steinitz) who turned white and fainted at the end He wasn’t drunk but I think he ate something which does not agree with him. I don’t know how he is but I expect he is better now.

Yesterday was the Fellowes match. A dog joined in and it kept running after the ball and worrying. In Mr Gaskell’s speech last night he said, “With the aid of some 3-year young research fellowes and a dog we managed to withstand the savage onslaugt put up by the choir school and beat them 2-0.” All clap except us who B-O-O-O-O! and then some chaps go S-S-S-S-S at the other end of the Hall!

Don’t forget Travel Form please

Much love

Clifford

(XXX) 1000,000.

Diary excerpts 4

June 11, 2016

28 August
A man dropped his programme in the Albert Hall urinal before tonight’s Prom. Just about the saddest thing I’ve ever seen.

31 August
Woman sitting next to me at last night’s Prom: ‘Richard doesn’t think Barry’s good enough. But that’s Richard – a total sleazebag … I’m dreading Sunday’s party. I’m just an unsociable old bitch. I hate making small talk with people I’ll never see again or want to.’

1 September
When a news story about the death of a soldier ends with ‘Next of kin have been informed’, it is to set the minds of other families at rest. I always find that a rather sobering thought.

4 September
Me: Is that the steak and mushroom pie?
Cafeteria lady: No, just normal pie, love. Steak and mushroom.

5 September
Shop assistant, gesturing towards baby: Someone’s very quiet.
Mother: Yes, he’s quite … high.

6 September
Suave thing to say to a bastard at a cocktail party: ‘Punch? I think you deserve one.’

17 September
Dream that I was writing in a communal birthday card for someone from school and I did a lot of patterns and shading with various ballpoint pens and was so energetic that the pens caught fire and the card was spoiled.

27 September
Mother: Mark Watson was talking about his novel on the radio.
Me: The one about incest?
Mother: I thought it sounded your kind of thing.
Me: Well, I’ve often wondered about it.

RAH