I have never taken one of those package holidays where you end up lying by a hotel pool, next to your wife, getting quietly sozzled, whilst even more quietly checking out the young talent splashing around (tucking away that unsightly hard-on). Hamish and I place such customs under the heading: “WC Follies”. (No, that’s working-classand not water closet). “Package holidays” – the very term smells of snobbery – might well be more enjoyable than I have assumed. I suppose a middle-class holiday, by contrast, consists of tramping round old churches and art galleries. Guide book and berlitz in hand. Or some healthy trekking, with plenty of insect bites involved.
I have a woman’s eye for detail, yet I am not especially attuned to English class differences. Hamish calls me sui generis, but I doubt I am that. Certainly I fall within some category – I am not so banal in my thinking that I consider myself more than a mirror of some Greater Soul.
The class issue is philosophically complex. It goes way beyond my comprehension at least. I can grasp something simple. I remember aged 14 receiving Stravinsky’sConversations with Robert Craft from my composition teacher (the marvelous Derek Holman). It became my daily reading and I found plenty of edicts there – a veritable catechism. What has Stravinsky got to do with package holidays? Well this “grandfather figure” was very influential in my case. And you go on behaving as you have learned to behave. Isn’t that it? I didn’t look to a pope………and I took even less inspiration from rock musicians. They were cute, but that’s all. And the Pope was surrounded by impressive ceremonial, but that’s all.
Anyway, as I got older, I found myself judging things for what they were, rather than in accord with some edict learned way back. I assume everything unfolds as it must, and that this falling away of snobbery is part of the pattern set for me in that world ofinvisibilium I have talked about.
So, yes, why not a beach, in Spain, at some point?
This year however, I went on holiday, as often before, to the house of my Venetian composition teacher – now, alas, increasingly frail. His house, up there near the Dolomiti, is a gathering place in summer for his children, their families and other guests, including former students like myself. In such an empty area – nothing but old buildings, mountains and forests – the spirit comes to the fore. And so it was that I was racked by some worries. Above all about the loss of a string quartet I wrote a few years ago. I can’t as yet track it down. Walking in the beautiful forests, rather than rejoicing, I had instead a very heavy heart. The loss of the quartet is a painful blow, almost unbearable. And of course, from that worry, it was only a short segue to all the other worries. And they tore at me, like furies.
So, at one moment I began to think “What is a holiday? Is this a holiday? I need a holiday!” I shall write another time about the more positive aspects of my trip to Italy…………
Meanwhile, an odd and exciting thing had happened before I even reached my destination. On the train from Verona I was very heavily cruised by an Arab man. He came and sat opposite me. He had stared very hard when I was queuing for a ticket and I stared back. Then he came up to me as I dithered around looking for a train. His face was so harsh I didn’t know whether he had robbery in mind, or sodomy. I avoided him on the platform, but, as I say, he came and sat opposite me on the train. By that stage, I was nervous, getting ready to be knifed and all the rest. Yet by the time the man got off the train, after about an hour, I had slipped him my telephone number and he had scribbled his for me, on the back of my plane ticket. A little voice in me pleaded “Geoffrey, don’t”. Yet I went ahead. Why? Well, this man had the most extraordinarily handsome face, like one of those that stares out of old Egyptian paintings. A sharp nose, blazing eyes. As he got off the train he left a packet of cigarettes behind on the seat. I picked them up and kept them, and I have kept his telephone number. But I didn’t smoke the cigarettes and I didn’t call the number. As usual with me, things remain mostly in the mind……(just the same as when composing music – there’s far more in my head than exists on the page)………
Hamish of course chortled with laughter over this and all my other Italian stories. He knows ALL my stories as I tell him everything. (And he was with me at the very moment I first set eyes on Hernán Esteban Gómez!). He has a formidable memory and can remind me of what I did years ago and have forgotten about. If I were Johnson, he would make the perfect Boswell.
On my return to Amsterdam, I found that Hamish had been watching loads of porn TV during my absence and he pointed out the remarkable talent that female performers have for sodomy. They seem to have no problem with it. Whereas male performers bite the pillow when they have to take it. Curious! The males are all East Europeans according to Hamish. The poor darlings.
Hamish knows my story about the famous doctor in Edinburgh who used to deal smoothly with all the nervous gays who turned up at the clap clinic. He was a very nice man and quite informative. (A bit like the one in London who used to have to nod politely to nearly everyone at Covent Garden – heh-heh). Well, Doctor X in Edinburgh was chatting away to me one day about the rectum and came up with the startling opinion that sodomy was probably good for hemorrhoids, rather than bad for them. He also added that what you are fucking, up there, only has the thickness of a stocking, hence the ease with which the HIV virus can hop into your bloodstream.
Hamish has left for Scotland now, taking all my stories with him. He has few of his own, poor dear, as he doesn’t share in my (albeit limited) recklessness.