Sunday, 24 August 2008


Making lists is one of the joys of being ancient.

Since I have largely retired from the outside world and the boundaries of my planet are my study and library, I probably don’t qualify; but I have always been a little hurt not to be invited on Desert Island Discs. I spent years making my selection.

In truth I would be happy taking only English composers. My favourites, Delius, Elgar, Butterworth, Vaughan Williams, Purcell, Tallis would remind me of When It Was England. Conductors like Beecham, and Barbirolli. Kathleen Ferrier at the head of the singers, of course.

Since that would not be allowed - though Moura Lympany once sent me a cassette of her Desert Island programme in which every one of the eight were recordings of her - here are my Desert Island Discs:

1. Renata Tebaldi and Carlo Bergonzi in La Boheme. My guru in musical matters, David Mellor, surprised me by saying Act 3 was his favourite in all opera. I suppose Act 1, which is the most played, was always mine. But listening to it carefully, I see his point. Listening to Mellor is my last luxury. Because the moment the programme is over I buy most of the CDs he has recommended with the money I have saved from not drinking, A few weeks ago I bought both “Butterfly” and “ La Boheme” sung by Tebaldi and I have just bought that archive recording of Rostropovich playing the Dvorak Cello Concerto on that memorable night at the Proms when Russia invaded Czechoslovakia. And a hostile audience was converted by his emotional playing, the most beautiful I have ever heard, during which the tears streamed down his face.

2. Madama Butterfly. The problem I always have with this opera is that swine Pinkerton. Absolute sewer. If ever I met him I would dash him to the ground. Come to think of it, Rodolfo’s treatment of Mimi in Boheme leaves a great deal to be desired. And as for that Georgio Germont,.the way he treats poor Violetta is the reason I would have to leave Traviata. on the mainland A favourite opera, but his interference is not to be borne. And his son isn’t much better. There is bad blood in that family, mark my words, and I hope his sister never got married.

3. Du Pre, Elgar, Cello Concerto. The music which started a long love affair with the composer and led to Vaughan Williams and Butterworth and after a long pause Delius. When one thinks of them and Gilbert and Sullivan foreign music pales.

4. Nigel Kennedy, Elgar, Violin Concerto. I have the recording of his debut performance but I would want to take my video of his recent Prom. The playing was masterly but the rapt expression on his face as he played brought tears to the eye.

5. Then I run into trouble. I put down My Old Dutch, September Song and Bring on the Clowns – then I remember the other Sondheims, Merry Widow. Carmina Burana, Fledermaus and Bryn Terfel’s Marriage of Figaro. Or the puppet version of “Magic Flute” I saw in Vienna. Vienna reminds me of Mahler, particularly his fourth symphony.

I am afraid in a review in his early career I called Terfel wooden was his acting but I happily ate my words when I saw Figaro. I would also like to sneak in the Enigma Variations, the music to which I intend to be cremated. But in the end it has to be Mahler, which always seems to be heard for the first time.

6. The Black Bear. That is the march the Pipe Band always played when we were within a mile of the barracks after a route march. I know of no other piece of music which so stiffens the sinews.

7. Walton’s Henry V. All history is here, distilled in fine music.

8. Nutcracker Suite. I have a small collection of Nutcracker DVDs, including Nureyev, and most of them are variations on the original Pepita choreography. My favourite is Peter Wright’s magnificent re-telling.

BOOK (Shakespeare is fine but anything but the Bible. I don’t do fairy stories) This is a problem. I would like to take the Harleian Manuscripts, a collection of documents about Welsh history from ancient times. It includes a Welsh genealogy which traces my ancestry back to a sister of the Virgin Mary, via St David. As ancient Welsh history is, to put it mildly, imaginary, it would provide endless fun.

The essay is my favourite reading. It as near as prose gets to music, the highest art. So an Omnibus of English Essayists - Sterne, Addison, Johnson, Lynd and Lamb - is an alternative if the National Library will not release the Harleian Collection.

I would try to sneak in my favourite novel by my all time favourite writer. the sadly neglected Howard Spring, whose “Fame Is the Spur” is a towering achievement and quite the equal OF ANY OF THE “GREAT” NOVELS.

Mind you, if I were technically literate I would ditch the whole lot, music as well, and take my laptop. Download the books on Gutenberg and the music on any one of many generous donors.

LUXURY My Bedroom, with wardrobe, bathroom and study adjoining.


Fortunately there a few bonny fighters left. My cousin Mary Gregory sent me this gem:

This is a genuine complaint to Devon & Cornwall Police Force from an angry member of the public. ..... Dear Sir/madam/automated telephone answering service,
Having spent the past twenty minutes waiting for someone at Bodmin police station to pick up a telephone, I have decided to abandon the idea and try e-mailing you instead. Perhaps you would be so kind as to pass this message on to your colleagues in Bodmin, by means of smoke signal, carrier pigeon or Ouija board. As I'm writing this e-mail there are eleven failed medical experiments (I think you call them youths) in St Marys Crescent, which is just off St Marys Road in Bodmin. Six of them seem happy enough to play a game which involves kicking a football against an iron gate with the force of a meteorite. This causes an earth shattering CLANG! which rings throughout the entire building. This game is now in its third week and as I am unsure how the scoring system works, I have no idea if it will end any time soon. The remaining five walking abortions are happily rummaging through several bags of rubbish and items of furniture that someone has so thoughtfully dumped beside the wheelie bins. One of them has found a saw and is setting about a discarded chair like a beaver on speed. I fear that it's only a matter of time before they turn their limited attention to the bottle of calor gas that is lying on its side between the two bins. If they could be relied on to only blow their own arms and legs off then I would happily leave them to it. I would even go so far as to lend them the matches. Unfortunately they are far more likely to blow up half the street with them and I've just finished decorating the kitchen. What I suggest is this - after replying to this e-mail with worthless assurances that the matter is being looked into and will be dealt with, why not leave it until the one night of the year (probably bath night) when there are no mutants around then drive up the street in a panda car before doing a three point turn and disappearing again. This will of course serve no other purpose than to remind us what policemen actually look like. I trust that when I take a claw hammer to the skull of one of these throwbacks you'll do me the same courtesy of giving me a four month head start before coming to arrest me. I remain sir, your obedient servant ... --------------------------------------------------------------------- Dear Mr ??????, I have read your e-mail and understand your frustration at the problems caused by youth playing in the area and the problems you have encountered in trying to contact the police. As the Community Beat Officer for your street I would like to extend an offer of discussing the matter fully with you. Should you wish to discuss the matter, please provide contact details (address / telephone number) and when may be suitable. Regards PC ? Community Beat Officer

--------------------------------------------------------------------- Dear PC ? First of all I would like to thank you for the speedy response to my original e-mail. 16 hours and 38 minutes must be a personal record for Bodmin Police station, and rest assured that I will forward these details to Norris McWhirter for inclusion in his next book. Secondly I was delighted to hear that our street has its own community beat officer. May I be the first to congratulate you on your covert skills? In the five or so years I have lived in St Marys Crescent I have never seen you. Do you hide up a tree or have you gone deep undercover and infiltrated the gang itself? Are you the one with the acne and the moustache on his forehead or the one with a chin like a wash hand basin? It's surely only a matter of time before you are headhunted by MI5. Whilst I realise that there may be far more serious crimes taking place in Bodmin, such as smoking in a public place or being Muslim without due care and attention, is it too much to ask for a policeman to explain (using words of no more than two syllables at a time) to these twats that they might want to play their strange football game elsewhere. The pitch on Fairpark Road , or the one at Priory Park are both within spitting distance as is the bottom of the Par Dock. Should you wish to discuss these matters further you should feel free to contact me on xxxxx. If after 25 minutes I have still failed to answer, I'll buy you a large one in the Cat and Fiddle Pub. Regards P.S If you think that this is sarcasm, think yourself lucky that you don't work for the cleansing department, with whom I am also in contact!! > >> > >> > >> > >> > > > >


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