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Busy doing nothing? It only looks like that.

December 29, 2012

We’re now in that rosy period between Christmas and New Year. The main family visits have been accomplished without incident – in fact with great pleasure from first to last, and here we are now with some time to slow down and (in theory at least) to ease up on the food and drink. That will be no easy matter, sitting as I am at the dining table with chocolates, nuts, biscuits and cake in plain sight all around, and an enticing collection of relaxing liquids barely more than arm’s length away. Indeed the only thing keeping me from getting up from the chair and adding to the waistline is – genuinely – music.

At the moment I am hooked up to a CD entitled Illuminare: Carols for a new Millennium. This is not an intelligence test, so no prizes for working out how old this disc is. And if you’ve read any of my previous posts you know by now not to expect a review. Let it be enough to say that it has successfully drawn me into that favourite place where the music wraps me up and lifts me out of the world. It’s a collection of rich choral music by very modern composers, so for good reason not easily linked to. But if you ever have the chance to hear Jean Belmont’s Nativitas, I recommend that you grasp it.

In one sense, it didn’t matter what I was listening to. I cannot bear to stop music in the middle – a fact which as I have mentioned before has occasionally awkward consequences. To do so requires an utterly compelling reason, and of course I am sole arbiter of what counts as compelling. Even if I accept the reason it will be with great reluctance beforehand and much grumpiness afterwards, because in any measurement of  priorities very few things will come higher on my list than music, and domestic exigencies rarely figure among those few. Mrs simonsometimessays has found this to her annoyance over a number of years – so many years, in fact, that one of us should have conceded the point by this time.

Bear with me now, for an almost total non-sequitur, but we’ll pick up the thread eventually. Thinking about the different views Mrs sss and I have about this, and whose capitulation is the more likely, the word “weakness” crossed my mind. It’s another of those word associations that instantly puts a tune in my head; in this case Joan Armatrading’s The Weakness in Me. In turn, that provoked its own train of thought – starting with just enjoying her uniquely plaintive and absorbing voice; next, admiring the skill with which she combines musical and lyrical idiom; and finally remembering my aunt Maggie.

As well as playing Joan Armatrading to me when I was a teenager, and introducing me to JS Bach’s Cello Suites (listen to this extract from Suite No 1 – which I am sure you’ll know, even if you didn’t know you knew it), Maggie was an affectionate, indulgent, cultured and yet somewhat exacting aunt.Casals - Bach - HMV She assumed to herself the unenviable office of taking her youngest nephews to  a pantomime or show each year, though it was clear that the experience of seeing the Wombles live show in the early/mid 70s gave her no pleasure whatever. I could almost feel her relief when we grew up enough for her to take her oldest nephews (I fell into both categories) off to see more grown-up entertainment, but in later times I have come to question whether Blazing Saddles counts as “grown-up”.

Although it is many years since Maggie died, some images and associations are still very vivid and unsurprisingly those are nearest the surface at this time of year, though not in an unduly maudlin way. One of the family visits this year has been to a household with a small and very handsome cat – a Burmese, I think, but it reminded me very much of Luke, my parents’ Siamese that they had for years when I was young. (After Luke’s time they acquired two small, snow-white very silly specimens – Agatha and Dahlia. For which reason (and no other) here’s a rather cheery performance of Rossini’s Cat Duet, a popular feature in the concert repertoire of operatic sopranos, who sometimes, however, miss the fun of it. We have mixed memories of it, somewhat coloured by its regular appearance at the end of a school concert, rendered by the head of music and one of her favourite alumnae, neither of whom was quite as good as she believed…)

Luke was a Christmas present from Maggie to her four niblings*, and she bought him as a kitten in the vain belief that getting to know one from a very young age would help her overcome a dreadful fear of cats. She really should have known better – as a plan it was an abject failure; Maggie played helplessly into the naturally dominant paws of a more-than-usually aristocratic feline, who proceeded to torment her for the next 15 years. He reached his triumph scrabbling through a narrowly open toilet window, to jump down past poor Maggie who was in an embarrassingly vulnerable position, giving her a shock from which she never really recovered.

Among her many legacies is Joan Baez. Tangibly, in that I still possess some of Maggie’s old LPs; but more importantly in the intangible sense of having a love for a singer that I would not have had but for her influence and in being able to recall a fond relationship each time I cue up a track like Colours. That recollection is key for me.

And so: I promised that we’d get back to the point eventually, and it’s this. Interrupting someone in the middle of a piece of music is to disturb more than a physical experience. It can destroy a fragile train of thought and reduce memories to fragments; it can be like breaking a dream in the middle. Most of all it can prevent them from making the emotional connections that are an essential part of listening. (Except in the case of Wagner, of course, in which case it is likely to be an act of mercy, or simply one of wakening).

Does that make me sentimental? Possibly, yes – but not miserable, even when I remember one of the songs that Grandad used to sing:

cd_jay_laurierLet’s have a jolly good cry-y-y
Let’s have a jolly good snivel.
Sob and sigh, and pipe your eye,
Some day we’ve all got to die.
So let’s be melancholy, with a tear in every eye.
Boo-hoo-hoo till we’re all wet through,
Let’s have a jolly good cry.

Thanks to Maggie, Grandad, and many others, to whom I will happily raise a glass. And on that note – it being an appropriate point to pause –  I will head over towards the Lagavulin and leave you with Whisky Galore.

Sláinte.

**yes, “niblings” – I’m sorry, but I didn’t invent this term and it really is rather handy.

(Thanks to Tagxedo for the word-cloud – creating the world’s first stream of consciousness cat).

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2 Comments
  1. Are you finally admitting that you have the Joan Baez discs? I’d forgotten the Luke and Maggie in the bathroom story! Good one this time!

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