Lunch with Jeremy again and swinging breasts

Over to Jeremy’s again for lunch. As I went cycling down the street I saw a beautiful black woman walking along, a sweet smile on her face. She certainly seemed to be enjoying the sunshine, loose breasts swinging back and forth under her T-shirt, nipples standing out. I didn’t feel sorry for the men in her path, however frustrated they might become, I just thought “go for it girl”.

Further along the way I passed the projected mosque in Baarsjesweg, still just a building site. There were a couple of workmen by the entrance and I stopped to ask them if the building was going ahead. They were evasive. Later Jeremy talked about the reasons for the delay.

Lunch was on the balcony, this time under an awning to keep the hot sunsine off. J. drew my attention to a little oak tree in a tub which he said had seeded itself. Visions of a bird flying overhead and shitting an entire acorn…….

On Koninginnedag, J. had stood on the street in the centre of town and sold some of his clothes and kitchen things. I told him that I had seldom been out to take part in Queen’s Day and asked him what the gay parties round Reguliersdwarsstraat are like. He laughed at me, as if to say “how stupid that you don’t know”. But he added that the crowd roundDe Amstel Taveerne is just great and asked me why I never go. He said it was hard to see some of his possessions get sold and I said that when I say goodbye to material things I sometimes give them a kiss. I do that now even with tram tickets before I throw them in the bin. It doesn’t strike me as very normal. And lately when I roll up my apron after work (at the Sorting Office), I sometimes unroll it again and then redo it more neatly.

J. had been to a Handel opera the previous night, so we talked a bit about Baroque as opposed to Romantic opera. His reaction to anyone decrying Puccini is “oh fuck off”. I agreed. We talked also about Poppea and that fantastic final duo Pur ti miro. No words can praise that enough, but I told him that it’s reputed to be by someone other than Monteverdi.

Mentioning this to Michael Bonaventure who arrived yesterday evening, he asked me if I have the Ave Maris Stella from the Vespers. So then we both raved about that too…… words can praise…….etc.etc.

Michael has been cracking up laughing whilst watching the porno channel on my TV in the background. He’s looking forward to “British Bang Babes” on Friday. We discussed my idea to replicate all those high pitched cries and moans in a piece of music. And I told him about my Scots friend Hamish who can do a perfect imitation. Also another story from a friend who once attended a premiere in Aldeburgh Parish Church where the composer had included all too convincing sounds of a female orgasm.

Jeremy told me you can now have a genetic test to determine your ancestry. People are finding for example that they are 10% Asian, 30% Welsh and so forth. But as yet, it’s very expensive.

J. also talked about his ex-boyfriend. He asked me about my situation and I answered, getting so bogged down in the detail that I suddenly said “sorry, I AM getting to the point”. (Nowadays I go into great detail when telling a story and exhaust myself. It must be still worse for those who have to listen). I said, “shall we talk about this another time?” – I knew he was quite keen to continue work. Lunch had taken two and half hours. I did the washing-up and left.

Cycling back I thought again about the lovely woman with swinging breasts and how I would vote for her one thousand times, but just once for the arrival of a new mosque. I said to myself “you are very wrong to think that”.

Family matters

It is my sister’s birthday today. She will be 66. But it was a stupid day. On my way to a lunchtime concert (harpsichord and traverso) I got off the tram so that I could get some money. Then I found my card had expired, so I had to turn back and go home. On the No.12 tram a very cute man opposite me yawned several times. Then I yawned. And then I remembered reading somewhere that yawns are catching like that.

And I remembered how as a small child I used to cry if my mother cried. My father used to yell and scream at her and bang doors when he was drunk. She didn’t often cry, but when she did it broke my heart. My sister would cry too. Though she was older and tougher than I was. Once she picked up a dustbin lid and held it there, like a shield, to defend us. We were cowering in the hallway of that bare house, with almost no furniture or even floor covering, or even light bulbs! And with not enough to eat. And the shame of him being unemployed. There was so much shame in that house. As a child one has almost no words, but one understands many things even so.

I carried some of that shame throughout my life and added my own to it. I speak here of something that many people can understand. And I say to myself and to everyone – this is one prison from which we, like Florestan in Fidelio, can escape………SHAME

Shame even menaced my creative work.

It took me really my whole life to forgive my father for his conduct. This year I shall for the first time remember him on his birthday – May 21st. Next year will be the centenary of his birth and I will discuss with my family how we can best celebrate him. If they don’t want to do anything, I shall myself go to his burial place. I have not visited it since his death in 1976. And I shall thank him, because he always loved me and never hit me or tried to hurt me in any other way. Okay, he didn’t do what men are supposed to do – work, pay for a family, give leadership. But he got one big thing right – he loved me.

There was an odd thing in the middle of these violent rages of my father – he would look at me in a disconcerted way as if to say “no, no, I don’t mean you”. But he didn’t say it. And he never did apologize in any way for what he did in those years.

Once in Venice on the Giudecca over lunch, I was explaining to my friend Marie how it was at home and she began to cry, so I had to stop. But a better reason to stop telling this story is that so many children throughout the world suffer far, far worse. And in telling one’s story, one mustn’t lose a sense of proportion.


astronomersA few weeks ago, telescopes all over the southwestern United States were turned toward Pluto to observe the occultation of a star in the constellation Sagittarius. It took about six minutes, that is, about three times longer than a typical Pluto occultation. Astronomers were keen to view the star’s light as it filtered through Pluto’s atmosphere in order to monitor both pressure and composition.

Yesterday, going down the Rozengracht on tram no.14, I was surprised to see high up on the tower of the Westerkerk a new sight. At the level of the clock face, the four ornamental urns that perch at each corner of the structure have been painted a bright blue. The tower has had extensive maintenance work done on it for over a year now. I had already on another occasion admired the painting of the crown at the very top of the tower. It is 90 meters high by the way and was built in 1638.

In rapid succession I thought:- “how beautiful” – “it’s garish” – “I like it” – “but it’s garish” – “I wonder if it’s been restored to the original colour” – “or if that’s some new playful departure” – “many ancient statues and stone buildings were originally painted” – “am I allowed to like it” – “I don’t know” – “I am disturbed”.

It must have been a very few seconds that passed before I came out of this reverie, but I was able to capture it all. And so I was able to monitor my “atmosphere”. Apparently, certainly in the first instance, at least, I don’t trust my own taste.

Trees and woods

A wood like my woods

A wood like my woods

Saturday was my last meeting with my class this semester. I liked the students very much and some of them worked quite hard. Now there is a big gap until September, when I begin again with a new group.

The trees on the way down were wonderful. An explosion of leaves and blossom – and that’s almost not a metaphor. A slow motion explosion, but not slow enough. Next time I look the leaves will be fully out. And then they will start to age.

I increasingly miss the woods near my childhood home. Much of that area will be changed now, but not all of it. Addington Palace has become a hotel. It was the headquarters of the Royal School of Church Music when I was a child. When I think of everything that happened to me there! Joyous things, painful things….

The place was always in my imagination as a solid rock, but nothing is solid. Everything is in transformation. I still remember exactly how the massive front door felt as I opened it. As a boy chorister I wasn’t supposed to enter by that main entrance, but sometimes I couldn’t resist it.

I would like time to slow up I always think, but perhaps it is me who has the tempo problem. As a child I would sometimes spend hours in the woods. I was exploring slowly and thoroughly. No, I wasn’t learning the names of the plants and the animals – that didn’t interest me – but I was keenly observing things even so. Nowadays I would never take that amount of time just “doing nothing”.

Some of the things I saw then must have been very old indeed – paths, cottages, dating back to the eighteenth century. But there was a medieval church in Addington Village. So some of the sights must have been even older. But which? What had changed and what had remained the same? How old were the springs in what I called the Spring Woods? And are they still there just the same, or have they dried up? I would like to travel back into the past to see how that area was long ago, and then I should like to travel into the future to see what of it will remain.

The first time I went to Addington Palace it was a Saturday morning in September and the gardeners were burning leaves. I was with another child and we were taken into a room where boys were singing divisi. It was the Beati Quorum Via of Stanford. I had never heard anything so beautiful. It was radiant like light.

You gotta do what you gotta do

Elizabeth II

Elizabeth II

H.M. The Queen is 81 today.

Alasdair left at nine in the morning for Schipol. We ate breakfast together and I took him down to the tramhalte. But I didn’t accompany him further because it’s an easy journey.

He arrived late last night and so we talked into the small hours, rather than over dinner. Very nice. I’m going to see him from time to time perhaps, as he has to make visits to the Koninklijk Conservatorium over the coming months. He gave me two of his scores and some recordings. He has a page at the RSAMD website.

After he had gone, I continued work on my string quartet.

Finally I have tracked down a recording of the John Rutter Requiem. It was the Requiem Aeternam movement broadcast on the radio a few weeks ago that struck Ananda and myself with such force. It is an inspired and well crafted movement . What I mainly wish to note here however is that this sort of specialist church music composer is regarded with contempt by my contemporary music composer colleagues. A strange snobbery, as one would certainly think twice before attending a vocal piece composed by some of those guys! He-he.

It’s partly about snobbery, but it’s also partly about acting and lying. But that’s an unnecessarily negative way of describing it. Let’s just refer to it as “career mentality”. Everybody remembers the case of the conservative government minister who gave an embarrassingly jingoistic, rabble rousing speech at a party conference. He lost his seat at the subsequent general election and then began to change his tune radically and to reveal himself as quite a reasonable man. He seemed to many to be papabile but then it emerged that he had a “gay past”. Oh dear. So he flopped in the ensuing leadership election. Only half interested in this depressing comedy, I realised rather late that the famous awful speech and subsequent change of direction had as their basis an ambition to rise to the top in politics, and maybe little else.

We make a pretence (and how often have I shuddered at hearing MYSELF deliver some carefully crafted compliment about Elliot Carter’s music?) because we hope to belong to the group that is going to ascend smoothly to the top. And we hope also that no one will notice that we don’t actually give a rat’sfuck about the group credo. I don’t happen to think it’s culpable to lie about one’s beliefs in order to survive and prosper. I just think it’s a pity that a very accomplished composer like John Rutter gets trodden underfoot in the process.

The Queen’s birthday today reminds me of what a disaffected bunch the composers’ group is. They are “republican” and “socialist” and “atheist”. I can’t imagine one of them turning up to cathedral evensong or taking communion at a Church of England mass unless they were paid to do so. And they would certainly laugh to scorn the very idea of a Royal Family. Fair enough. But watch when you withdraw the government subsidy from these same folk how they start chanting about the collapsing state of the nation. And by the way, not a few of these “socialist” composers don’t give a ratshit about what music “the people” actually enjoy. That makes sense to them I guess.

Well, I don’t mean entirely to condemn the hypocrisy and, as I indicated, I take part in it myself. You gotta do what you gotta do.

But let me resolve henceforth always to think well of my colleagues, no matter how rich and talentless they may be. I cannot promise always to SPEAK well of them, but in my heart they shall be honoured. Dear, dear colleagues, may you live long and prosper.

David Horne and Alasdair Spratt

Alasdair telephoned from the Conservatorium in the Hague to say he would be coming over to stay en route for Schipol. He is an ex-student of David Horne who is an ex-student of mine. So a sort of “grandson” as far as writing music is concerned.

David is now a formidable composer and teacher, bright as anything and he will dispute till the cows come home on many subjects, though it never gets abrasive. I have to think my ideas through carefully before tackling him or I end up flat on my face in the mud…………he-he.

Alasdair and I have been having a correspondence by email for some time, mostly about religious matters. They interest us both very much. He sang in the chorus at the Edinburgh premiere of The Coming of Wasichu, a big cantata I wrote about native Americans back in 1998. That’s a very religious piece and it marks, perhaps, the point at which my interest in religion began rapidly to increase. Exponentially in fact. Incidentally, I don’t at all like the term native Americans. I would prefer something like Original Americans or First Americans.

Alasdair is a composer of course. I only know one piece so far, but that’s all about to change. In addition, he writes about music.