1883, Seurat – Peasant Woman Seated in the Grass

I completed the comic song “I know where my genius lies” today. It was written for two colleagues – a baritone and a pianist – to perform in April. I wrote the words a couple of weeks ago, the melody on Sunday and the piano part yesterday and today. Even so, I was irritated all day because of the time taken for this work. Also I hate playing things on the piano which I needed to do, so as to make the piano writing as technically easy as possible. But you immediately see all the different possibilities. Ugh, I hate that, it’s like soap under the nails. The only thing I use the piano for nowadays, by the way, is to practise five-finger exercises. And I enjoy those. They are pleasant and don’t give me any bother.

The decisions about “different possibilities” that I hate, have to do with alternatives which are equally valid. In tonal music (which this was) it can be the exact positions of triads, or the register in which you set them. I also hate choosing dynamics. A lot of this sort of time-wasting crap I just decide randomly nowadays. What was interesting to do was the little dance I put in at the end – each phrase in a different key. That was fun. (It’s like my apartment with a different colour marmoleum* for each room – yellow, blue, green, red, etc.). Also there was one nice moment where I combined two separate ideas to make something new, in a way that you would recall both sources.

I thought of John Cage and his colleagues at Black Mountain College. I write something for colleagues which is more or less a Gilbert and Sullivan comic song. Cage would never have done that. I thought about the difference between him and me.

Whilst working at my table I looked out of the window at the balcony of a house opposite. I saw a coloured woman and thought very fast “O my God, it’s a new neighbour, the white people have moved out” and “look she’s making an unsightly mess there, hanging out her washing, like a peasant “. Then I thought “wait a minute, perhaps she’s a cleaner…..I hope so”.

These thoughts happened so fast that there was no time for the censor to swing into action. And the observer in me noted my thoughts with some surprise – I don’t THINK of myself as racist!

I suppose then that I live in denial like my friends. I’d like to be honest with MYSELF at least! And that selfish issue has nothing to do with the sad issue of a woman being disliked just because of her colour and because she steps out on to the balcony to hang out some washing “like a peasant”. What can I say? I caught myself out!

* “Marmoleum is a thoroughly versatile floor covering made from natural and harvestable raw materials such as linseed oil, wood flour, chalk and pine rosin.”

A sleepy bumblebee

bumblebeeOn the way to the glass disposal container round the corner, with some empty wine bottles (yes I drink a lot), I passed a very sleepy, or possibly dying, bumblebee. It was motionless there on the ground, and covered with tiny raindrops. Fortunately no child had discovered it, so I was able to save it from being playfully squashed. I nudged it on to the back of a tram ticket, which I found distasteful, as it overturned and wriggled big black legs (like those of a swift house spider). But I persevered and gently tipped the groggy little thing amongst some bushes that grow alongside the street. I suppose it will be eaten………… Oh well, I did what I could.

Since I am nearing the end of my days I seem to have developed a little more reverence for life. I hate for example the way people set house plants out by the rubbish. Are they bored with them? The cactii which live so happily in my front window – it gets the afternoon sun – are growing like crazy and they are my friends. I wouldn’t dream of dumping them out by the rubbish. Now there is an orchid on the windowsill as well. It is currently budding, having been quiet for a long time. It was given to me by a horrible person – a “Judas of character” – and I really didn’t want to keep it. But the orchid is not to blame. No, in this instance, I am to blame, for having such a poor choice when it comes to friends. That person has disappeared now and all that is left of him is a few emails and the orchid……heh-heh. Perhaps that’s all that will be left of me when I am gone. Hahaha.

I have decided, by the way, to get a cat (as I’m talking of critters)…………

Hamish reacts….

Hi Geoff,
Your piece seems fine – if a trifle glum. Your prose poem on a dying bee reminds me of a typical piece of Hamish useless fact-rummaging. Bees love the nectar of the familiar lime tree (or linden in the US). One popular variety, however, the Silver pendant lime (Tilia petiolaris) produces its flowers later in the season (summer) and has a very strong, beautiful scent, which we humans appreciate – but proves deliciously narcotic to bees, many of whom can be seen “drunk” or knocked out at the base of that tree in summer, driven to sweet unconsciousness by the delicious fumes they have imbibed. Some of the bees recover and sober up – but others never wake up again….

Are you really going to get a cat? Who’ll look after puss when you’re on your hols?