12 October, 2011

Naive? Pathetic? Silly? Yes, And Worth Every Penny!

Well, not once in last night’s Bob Dylan concert in Nottingham did I sit and think to myself sadly of the spent £140 for our two tickets to see the show! (Blog: “And you never ask questions when God’s on your side” http://arbeale.blogspot.com/2011/07/and-you-never-ask-questions-when-gods.html ). I’d do it again tomorrow! Worth every penny. And, as we sat high in the Nottingham Arena with almost 10000 others looking down at the distant stage, teeth vibrating with the ear bursting sound from the backing group the one thing that kept coming into my mind was here I was, Joe Public, having the opportunity to share the same few feet of the planet’s surface with one of the age’s great icons.

Perhaps younger people or those of a less idealistic bent would have taken it all in their stride – after all, what is there to it?  You pay your money, get your ticket and see the show. End of story. And that’s true. Except to my warped mind I see it a little differently. Let me explain why – and if any of my family read this, they will immediately recognise my line of argument! So to them I apologise for revisiting old ground.

Knopfler and Dylan together a few years ago
- when Knopfler still had hair!
People of my generation  have lived through 60 years of relative peace and increasing wealth. My mother in law, Winnie Green - a woman of huge compassion and great wisdom - often said (and especially as she approached her 90th year) that no other generation could have lived through so much change as her generation. She was right – horse drawn carriages to computers, a world ever smaller as travel became easier, corner shops becoming great supermarkets. If her comments were true, then I also believe that it is equally true to say that no other  generation – we “Baby Boomers” -  has had the opportunities for success and self improvement  that mine has had – increasing wealth, access to education, access to information in various forms, increased health prospects and many others. True there are, and continue to be, many disgraceful exceptions to this rule but overall vast numbers of people growing up in post war Britain, and indeed much of the remainder of the western world have had opportunities and  a way of life their parents and grandparents could not have even dreamt of.

And I have been incredibly lucky – I’m not “wealthy”, not famous, I’ve spent my life teaching in a classroom rather than some more glamorous occupation, never mixed with the rich and famous or the shakers and movers of the world. But, like very many of my generation I have been increasingly able to do things that only a very few years ago would have been quite out of the question for an ordinary person.

Dylan (right) on the keyboard - a distant view from my seat.
Some years ago, my wife and I overheard a youngster  - I think a University friend of my son or daughter – listing all the places they had visited on the earth’s surface and at the same time outlining those still yet to be seen. It was discussed  in a matter of fact way and carried the implicit assumption that it was quite reasonable, the natural order of things, that trips abroad, experiencing exotic events were quite part of a person’s right and reasonable expectations.

But not for me. If someone had told me, when I was a child living in the back street of a northern industrial town  in a tiny house with no hot water or inside lavatory, that one day I would sit on an elephant’s shoulders as it strode through the bush in Sri Lanka. Or that I would stand in New York’s Central Park and look down at the memorial to one of the world’s great icon’s, John Lennon. Or that I would stand at dawn and watch the sun rise over Ayres Rock, and at the same time drink white wine in a dawn picnic - then I would never have believed it. Nearer to home I have sat in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre at Stratford on Avon an many occasions; I have been able to see the world’s great shows in the West End. In a few week’s time I will sit and watch one of the world’s great operas, Madam Butterfly, here in Nottingham and just before Christmas I will sit in the Thomaskirche in Leipzig and listen to  the Christmas Oratorio performed in the place where Bach wrote it three centuries ago.

I could go on. The point is that I have been very lucky – and so too, for the most part, has been my generation. There may be all sorts of issues and criticisms of we “Baby Boomers” – “the generation that had it all” I read of us being so  described  the other day. And it cannot be denied – but that doesn’t prevent me being amazed, humbled and grateful for the opportunities that I have had.
One of the few bits of audience interaction - a quick final bow!

So, back to Bob Dylan. As anyone who read my recent blog (“You never ask questions when God’s on  your side”) will know, I was looking forward to it but hesitant and a little worried that seeing Dylan would not live up to my expectations, that my £140 for our tickets would seem wasted.. But no, it was not wasted - it hugely surpassed my expectations.

This was not the Dylan of protest. It was not the Dylan who motivated a generation to go out and change the world. It was not the Dylan that I remember  exciting me as young trainee teacher in the mid sixties when at the college folk club,held each Tuesday night in the skittle alley of the "Man of Trent" pub in Clifton, Nottingham, I first heard “Masters of War” or “With God on our Side”. This was a growling Dylan singing the blues with an ultra loud band behind him. It was a Dylan dressed virtually all in black with a wide brimmed hat shading his face on a dimly lit set aggressively  barking at the words. But it was Dylan – the man who half a century after his fame as a folk poet had inspired and been the back drop to changing the world – has this year been one of the major contenders for the Nobel Literature prize. Some of the old favourites from “Highway 61 Revisited” were beaten out and the evening ended with one of my favourites “Don’t Think Twice it’s All Right” and what I once read described as arguably the greatest song ever written, “Like a Rolling Stone”. Listening to some of these – all of which I have on CD – I was again taken back to my college days – the guy on the next room borrowed my copies of the Dylan LPs “The Freewheelin Bob Dylan” and “Highway 61 Revisited” . We swapped LPs for a few weeks – Dylan in exchange for his favourites “The Beachboys” – and I never got mine back. I’ve never forgiven him!

And, as I said above and hoped for before the concert, here I was sharing something with one of the world’s great icons –  and getting excited about it! Naive? Pathetic? Silly? – yes all of these - but still true. And worth every penny and more!
Knopfler in full flight

And, of course, it wasn’t only Dylan. He was sharing the show with Mark Knoplfer of Dire Straits one of my very favourite groups and, like Dylan, part of my life – a group and their music that will always be associated with my children growing up in the 80s. For me too Knopfler and Dire Staits will always be associated with a sad tale which is probably best left as the subject of another blog. But, briefly, when I was teaching one of the children in my class and who had gone through the school was a boy who had a rare form of cancer from birth. He  was about 10 and everyone knew he would not live beyond his early teens. Dad was a keen amateur guitarist and played in local pubs. He taught Paul to play – the lad had a great talent for it  and when we had discos at school Paul and dad would play for the disco – Rock and Roll.  Dad wrote to Dire Straits and asked if they could supply autographed pictures of Paul’s heroes . They did more – Paul was invited to London to watch them record and a relationship was built up. And when Paul died a year or two later there were many tears in the church when a tape was played of Knopfler and the group singing – the group were touring in the USA but a huge wreath and the tape had been sent. There’s more to it than that – but perhaps that is for another blog. The main thing is that, music apart, Knopfler has always come over as a nice guy  - a thinking man, with something rather more to offer. And so it was last night – the audience were with him. It was as much the man as his music that they were cheering.
Knopfler has the audience in his hands

I have seen him before and he  was again superb. Like Dylan he has moved on since his Dire Straits days but the sound was still there. Yes, the rock, blues underpins everything but now more folky type music – fiddles and flutes, a distinctly Celtic sound. Had you entered the Arena unknowing you would have still instantly recognised  the sound of Dire Straits and the  distinctive  Knopfler. He  looks more a middle aged gent now – no longer sporting  the head band -  than a rock star but the sound in unmistakable. Like Dylan there was much of his newer stuff  but towards the end he launched into “Brothers in Arms” – the signature song from the CD – the fifth best selling CD in UK history and then from the same CD “So Far Away” – and the audience approved wildly! But perhaps the song that took the evening – certainly for me and many others was a new one “Privateering” – Knopfler at his best. I‘ll look for this on any new CDs brought out. It’s not just me saying how good it is – looking at the reviews on the web many others think the same: “If this doesn’t get him his knighthood then nothing will” was representative of many.
"So far away" - sang Knopfler, and he was!
It’s perhaps worth mentioning the big difference (for me – and I think for many others) between the two performers. Knopfler came over, as I say, a nice guy – he related to the audience, acknowledged them. Dylan didn’t. Aloof, little or no dialogue – and that which there was, at the very end of the show was unintelligible. Some found this disconcerting and a failing. I suppose it was – but, and I think this is important – I think that is one of the essentials of Dylan’s character. It’s what makes him tick. It’s the same trait that has allowed him to write the scathingly biting verse and songs that he has. A rejection of convention and the accepted codes of life. That is not to  minimise his aloofness or to  justify it, but to recognise that that is the man. Indeed, as I watched him I mused what it must be like when he wakes each morning in some strange hotel room in some far off city and think to himself “I’m Bob Dylan”. Like John Lennon his every word picked over as people look for some pearl of wisdom and insight – or some stick to beat him with.  To walk through the hotel’s reception or sit in its dining room and to be aware – not in  a boastful way – that he is one of the very few people in the world who is ultra famous and has been rightly or wrongly a shaper of the world and its opinions for the past half century. Combine that with the fact that his renown is built upon his rebelliousness and rejection of convention and I can understand a certain measure of aloofness. No, what we saw was Dylan.
Dylan 2011 - still the rebel and rejecter of the expected

And I suppose that brings me back to where I started. It was simply great to be part of it. When we arrived at the Nottingham Arena ticket touts stood outside asking if we would sell our tickets! When we took our seats high on the tiered balcony we looked down on a sea of people. It must be said that this was not a teenage audience – although there were many youngsters there, by far the audience was filled with greying people of our generation – many having some difficulty to mount the steep steps to the upper seats! But, like me they had come to see two of the icons of the last fifty years  - and I think everyone must have gone home happy.

And as I climbed into bed, my head still thumping and buzzing from the volume I thought again how, fifty years ago when I stood with my college friends in the skittle alley at the “Man of Trent” pub on Clifton estate in Nottingham, where every Tuesday night we used to hold our folk evenings, I would never have imagined and believed that one day I would see Dylan for real – if only from a long way away and in a vast auditorium filled with almost  10,000 others. No, we really have been the generation of opportunity and so very, very lucky.

06 October, 2011

Laughable? Childish? No, Deeply Worrying.

Blog followers in the UK will be familiar with this week’s political spat at the Conservative Party Conference between Home Secretary, Theresa May and Justice Minister Ken Clarke. For those further afield, however, I will give a very brief run down. At the Conference Theresa May gave a key note speech in which she cited a number of instances where she and the government intended to tighten up the laws concerning illegal immigrants. She suggested (probably correctly)  that some illegal immigrants are using (and maybe abusing) the Human Rights Act to fight deportation from Britain and  illustrated her case by, amongst other examples, citing the case of a Bolivian national who resisted deportation on the grounds that he owned a cat. May, who wants to abolish the Human Rights Act, said : "The illegal immigrant who cannot be deported because – I am not making this up – he had a pet cat." She further cast a shadow on the wisdom and professionalism of judges who had made the decision.

In fact virtually all of what she said was incorrect – the person concerned was not an “illegal immigrant” but someone who was making an application to stay in this country after their previous right had expired.  The cat item was merely one of many pieces of required evidence submitted to show that the person concerned had an established life in this country – a settled relationship,  employment, life style etc. What Theresa May said was nothing more than an unpleasant “sound bite”, an assertion not backed up by fact. She had not checked her facts and was playing to the Tory “gallery”.
Home Secretary Theresa May

Interviewed minutes afterwards, Ken Clarke, who as Justice Minister has some responsibility for Courts and their workings, denied any knowledge of the particular case and rightly suggested that he thought it very unlikely that the ownership of a cat alone would be sufficient reason for an illegal immigrant to be granted a stay in this country. It all looked a mess – two senior government ministers disputing a particular matter of fact.

And today, Ken Clarke  has followed this up by  describing Theresa May’s speech as “laughable” and “childlike”.  He is in some ways correct – except, I believe, that the whole issue is far more serious than that.  Underlying May’s comments is a very real and deeply worrying concern. Clarke (who is my MP) has had his wrists slapped by Downing Street and announced that he  “regrets his colourful use of language” .  He should, I believe, not regret it but rather  pursue Mrs May more vigorously.

In making the comments that she did – she not only trivialised a serious issue but did so with a mocking use of  emotive half truths. In using phrases like “I’m not making this up” and doing so with a smirk on her face - she was playing to the audience in the worst possible way. Even had the case she was describing been perfectly as she described it, the manner in which she used language and truth were quite unacceptable and unbefitting of a government minister. In that sense Clarke is wrong – her comments were not “childlike” or “laughable”, they were unpleasant and calculated to be vicious. May’s tactics were the tactics of rabble rousers and bullies the world over – the National Front, Nazi groups, lynch mobs. Tell the crowd half truths, spice it up with a smirk, mock those you perceive (from your position of superiority) to be inferior or vulnerable, pour scorn – in short,  stir up anger and hatred. And to make matters worse May was not only pouring scorn on those who might be described as “illegal immigrants” she was also venting her spleen on what is currently the law of the land and the judges who are responsible for upholding it. And the "faithful" at the Conference, sheep like as is the " dutiful, mindless mob" "lapped it up" - after all, it must be true, the Home Secretary said so!

I would like Mrs  May to explain which part of her job description as Home Secretary provides her with the right or privilege to do this?

But, from where I am sitting there is a terrible symmetry to all this. Ken Clarke made his comments in my local newspaper “The Nottingham Evening Post”. Well, in another bit of local news, a local Nottingham coroner yesterday criticised what she called a “baying crowd” of bystanders in Nottingham when they called for an asylum seeker Osman Rasul Mohammed – to “jump”. The Iraqi Kurd, had been in Britain for almost 10 years when an application to stay in the country was rejected and the inquest  heard  that in a distressed state he  climbed on to the railing of a seventh floor balcony and fell to his death.

Mrs May cannot, of course, be held responsible for this. Nor I suspect did the “baying crowd” even know that Mr Mohammed was an asylum seeker – they were simply being a mob and doing what mobs do – following the loudest, most strident voice. And, for me, it highlights the importance of those who are supposed to lead leading in a responsible manner.  Mrs May’s speech the other day was totally irresponsible – trivialising, mocking, smirking, playing to the audience, reducing everything to the lowest common denominator - that is what crowds and mobs thrive upon. She should be ashamed. It also further confirms my belief that we have some very third rate people in government – and especially this government. Much as I dislike and despised Margaret Thatcher her attention to detail and her ability to run government would have ensured that people like May would never have achieved such high status.
Justice Minister Ken Clarke

And, I note that “No 10 said it was delighted [at what] May had said in her conference speech“. If that is the case then it is another example of our Prime Minister’s poor judgement on these matters – she should have been sacked on the spot. But, for me - and following the comments that I made in my blog last week ("Hungarian musicians, Indian curries and German composers") - it reinforces my feeling that there is much intolerance and ill disguised prejudice stalking not only our streets but also our government at the very highest levels. Clearly, had Rudolf Botta (see blog: http://arbeale.blogspot.com/2011/09/hungarian-musicians-indian-curries.html) pleaded to Mrs May half a century ago that he should be allowed to stay in this country after fleeing his native Hungary he would have been similarly mocked and scorned as an "itinerant fiddler" not worthy of respect or consideration.

And, as a  postscript to the events, one sees the mob behaviour and mentality again in today's (Friday, Oct 7th) Tory press - the Daily Telegraph (the paper that had, I understand, carried the incorrect story that May had picked up and used). Having been exposed for  what it was - an incorrect and ill thought out piece of dirty politics - the Telegraph now reports that the immigrant in question had in fact received a police caution for shop lifting - which presumably, linked with his ownership of a pet cat proves what an undesirable he is. It also, presumably "justifies" May's comments. But of course it doesn't - the issue was not whether the man concerned  was or was not an illegal immigrant - for all I know he may be Osama bin Laden's Godfather - it was the incorrect, unpleasant manner in which the Home Secretary did her job. But, of course in the mob mentality that doesn't matter. Over forty years I have seen the gang on the school playground justify their  actions, when cornered, by any manner they choose - usually be casting irrelevant doubt on the poor victim of their bullying. The gang in Nottingham who chanted "Jump" would individually all have reasons for why they each shouted - but I would venture that none of the reasons would have anything to do with truth, logic or right. No, they would stick together and still strive to blame the victim that it was his fault - as I said above, it is what gangs and mobs do. Theresa May - would make an admirable gang leader - manipulative, mocking, scornful. But very much not, in Clarke's words, "childish and laughable".

04 October, 2011


We have been experiencing some very unseasonal October weather over the past few days – a real Indian summer with temperatures reaching the upper twenties or even thirty degrees. Pat and I have managed a couple of barbeques and, as I write this, she is taking advantage of what will surely be the last days of summer – she is asleep on the garden bed soaking up the afternoon sun! To be honest, although the days have been lovely it’s all a bit hot for me so I prefer the shade.

But, whatever the weather says, Autumn is almost on us. The paths are beginning to fill up with fallen leaves, the summer flowers are starting to drop their flowers and everywhere, especially first thing in the morning, spider’s webs are clearly visible covered on early morning droplets of dew. In a few weeks or perhaps even days time Nottingham folk will looking out of their windows first thing in the morning and saying “It’s a bit Goose Fairish this morning”. By that they will mean it’s a bit chilly, misty and with, perhaps, a hint of frost. In other words – an autumn morning.

For hundreds of years the first week of October has been in Nottingham “Goose Fair”. The time when fairground entertainers and entertainment descend on the city for the annual Goose Fair – one of the great fairgrounds of England – indeed Europe. The Fair always opens on the first Thursday in October and lasts over the weekend on a special site close to the city centre. When we first came to live in Nottingham , almost fifty years ago, the children always had a day off school for Goose Fair – it was known as the Goose Fair Day. Sadly, that day has now been swallowed up on the centrally imposed school holiday pattern. It’s a wonderful thing progress!
 Nottingham's Goose Fair

The Fair dates back more than seven hundred years and its origins are to be found in the traditions and needs of medieval England. There is probably no single reason for the establishment of the Fair. It grew out of the way of life of the time. The Goose Fair started as a trade event and enjoyed a reputation for the sale of geese and its high-quality cheese, although it is now known for its rides and games. Its name is derived from the thousands of geese that were driven from Lincolnshire to be sold in Nottingham. Originally, the fair was held on the 21st of September, but in 1752, with the change to the Gregorian calendar, it moved to early October. The duration of the fair was shortened from eight days to three days in the 1800s.
Goose Fair 1912 - in the
City's Market Square

Another element in the establishment of the Fair and the timing of it is related to the tradition of “Quarter Days” – days when servants were hired, rents had to be paid and all bills settled. The Quarter Days fell on four religious festivals roughly three months apart and close to the two solstices and two equinoxes. The dates of these days were: Lady Day (25th March), Midsummer Day (24th June), Michaelmas (29th September )and Christmas (25th December) . Michaelmas Day is sometimes referred to as Goose Day – this allegedly dates from the time that Queen Elizabeth 1st received news of the defeat of the Spanish Armada (on Michaelmas Day) . She was at the time eating goose and declared from that day forward she would always eat goose on Michaelmas Day!
The huge Goose that welcomes
visitors to the Gair

Added into this story is the belief that in medieval times, once the rents had been paid, servants hired, jobs obtained, the harvest brought in (Michaelmas Day is traditionally the last day of the harvest) it was time for a celebration – everything was ready for the cold and uncertainty of Winter. So, a hearty meal of goose and some entertainment was what people wanted – and Goose Fair began!

But whatever the reason, Goose Fair has been part of the Nottingham scene for many hundreds of years. When our children were small the house that we lived in then faced Nottingham Ring Road and on the Sunday before Goose Fair we would stand for ages watching the hundreds of great lorries driving past our house all pulling the funfair rides that would be set up on the Goose Fair site and our two children would know that later that week we would all visit the fair as a family!

My neighbour's Autumn flag
And, as I said above, for Nottingham folk, the coming of Goose Fair is associated with the coming of Autumn weather – misty and chilly mornings, the shortening days, blowing leaves, conkers, the occasional frost, spider’s webs, migrating birds – Autumn is here: “It’s a bit Goose Fairish”!

And in close up
And I am reminded that Autumn is just around the corner – despite the present heat wave – each time I walk down my street. At the end of my street, the lady who lives there brightens up her house frontage and indeed the whole street throughout the year by hanging a colourful flag outside. She tells me that the flags come from the USA where there is a tradition of them –what a lovely idea. Her son sends them – he lives in the US. Beautifully decorated, colourful and a real asset to the road the flag changes with the seasons. A couple of days ago she put up a lovely flag saying “Autumn Welcome”. She has similar ones for other seasons of the year or for particular events – Christmas, St George’s Day, American Independence Day and the like – it’s a lovely touch. A few weeks ago she put up the Stars and Stripes as a mark of respect to the victims of 9/11 – again, just right, not jingoistic but tasteful and acknowledging a sad event. As we walked past the house this morning and looked at the “Autumn Welcome” flag Pat grumbled that she didn’t welcome Autumn – it means we will lose the heat wave and her sun bathing days will be gone for a few months – but there you go, you can’t please everyone!

So, Autumn is just around the corner. I love Autumn – more than any other season. Summer I find too hot and sticky and Winter too cold – especially now that I am a little older. But Spring and especially Autumn I love. I love the cosiness of night’s drawing in, the morning mists, the “nip” in the air, the dew on the grass. When I was teaching one of the favourite songs of the children – and of me – was called Autumn Days”

Autumn days, when the grass is jewelled, And the silk inside a chestnut shell
Jet planes meeting in the air to be refuelled, All these things I love so well
So I mustn’t forget, No, I mustn’t forget, To say a great big thank you, I mustn’t forget.

Clouds that look like familiar faces, And a winter’s moon with frosted rings
Smell of bacon as I fasten up my laces, And the song the milkman sings.
So I mustn’t forget, No, I mustn’t forget, To say a great big thank you, I mustn’t forget.

Whipped-up spray that is rainbow-scattered, And a swallow curving in the sky
Shoes so comfy though they’re worn out and they’re battered, And the taste of apple pie.
So I mustn’t forget, No, I mustn’t forget, To say a great big thank you I mustn’t forget.

Scent of gardens when the rain’s been falling, And a minnow darting down a stream
Picked-up engine that’s been stuttering and stalling, And a win for my home team.
So I mustn’t forget, No, I mustn’t forget, To say a great big thank you I mustn’t forget.

Autumn leaves on
our village green
Yes – jewelled, cloudy skies dew covered grass, conkers, silky spiders’ webs, frost, cooked breakfasts, rainy days, hedges covered with red berries, warm dinners rather than daily salads, the start of the football season............... I like Autumn. The flag is just right “Autumn Welcome”!

And finally, as we enter this season of “Mists and mellow fruitfulness.....” - to coin the words of the poet John Keats when he wrote his wonderful poem “To Autumn” in September 1819 – I am reminded of some wonderful music. The music is not strictly autumnal nor was it written with Autumn particularly in mind. But I find it wonderfully evocative of the season. The music is by the English composer Gerald Finzi and two pieces in particular are, in my view, very autumnal.  The two pieces are his “Five Bagatelles” and “Eclogue”.

Finzi was born in 1901 and died in 1956. He was best known as a song and choral composer but also wrote other pieces – including a wonderful Clarinet Concerto (which has a very Autumnal third movement) and the two short pieces that I mentioned above. Finzi’s music teacher was  killed in the 1st World War and his three brothers, too, died. This made him reflective, perhaps with a bleak outlook on life and a confirmed pacifist and I believe this is reflected in much of his work – slightly melancholy, gentle and harking back to a more peaceful, simpler time.

Gerald Finzi
Many pieces of music capture the spirit of a place or period: Copeland’s “Appalachian Spring” is redolent of the early settler communities in the Appalachian Mountains in the USA; hot, dry Spanish days can be pictured in Rodrigo’s “Concerto de Aranjuez”; Debussy’s “Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faune” makes me think of a hot, sultry afternoons in a shady  wood; the frozen Venetian lagoon in Vivaldi’s “Winter” movement from “The Four Seasons” is rich in colour and texture, and Smetana's Má vlast ("My Motherland") is as good as a painting for describing the countryside and traditions of his beloved Bohemia – the movement called “Vltava” (or “The Moldau”) is the most wonderful musical depiction of the river's course through Bohemian fields and mountains.

And, many English composers, too, have successfully captured aspects of English life and times – Vaughan Williams, Elgar (especially in his great Cello Concerto), George Butterworth, Peter Warlock, Gustav Holst. But for me Finzi is the one – reflective, gentle, evocative of the countryside at different times of the year. Much of Finzi’s work was inspired by English poetry – especially that of Thomas Hardy and his music also, I think, reflects the man himself – gentle, a man who enjoyed his garden, who grew apples, who lived a secluded and quiet life. Finzi never felt at home in the city. His first home as a young man was in Painswick Gloucestershire where he composed in the tranquillity of the Gloucestershire countryside – his first published work was a song cycle “By Footpath and Stile” to accompany words by Thomas Hardy. Later, having married the artist Joyce Black, he settled in Wiltshire, where he devoted himself to composing and apple-growing, saving a number of rare English apple varieties from extinction. He also amassed a valuable library of some 3000 volumes of English poetry, philosophy and literature, now in the library of the University of Reading, and a fine collection (some 700 volumes including books, manuscripts and printed scores) of 18th-century English music, now at the University of St Andrews. The Gerald Finzi Trust describes Finzi thus: “20th century English composer, renowned for inspired, flexible Thomas Hardy verse settings and lyrical instrumental style. Lover of reading, collector of books, conservationist - whether of 18th century music or apples: scholar, aesthete, stalwart citizen - directing amateur music-making, hosting war evacuees. Cherished husband of Joy, artist and poet.”

The man seems to be his music – or should that be the other way around!

A woodcut -
"The Shepheardes Calendar" -
 printed in a
sixteenth century edition of
Eclogue 1 by Vergil
Sadly, in 1951, Finzi learned that he was suffering from the then incurable Hodgkin's disease and had less than ten years to live. He died in 1956. The first performance of his Cello Concerto having been given on the radio the night before.

The two pieces that I love are both very short – each only a few minutes long. “Eclogue” was originally a movement from a piano concerto that Finzi was writing when he died and so did not complete. “Eclogue” means a pastoral or idyllic poem or piece of music. Finzi’s piece for piano and strings seems (to me!) to speak of Spring or Autumn mornings or evenings; of the English countryside; of smoke curling up into the sunset from a country cottage; of red berried trees; of a long gone world of quiet country lanes and village festivals; of wood smoke and silence; of a coming rain storm followed by a return to quiet peace. It would in my view make a wonderful accompaniment to a reading of Keats’ “To Autumn” or indeed to that greatest of English pastoral poems “Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” :
"Season of mists and
mellow fruitfulness"?

“The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd winds slowly o'er the lea,
The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me............”

And the other piece – or rather five very short pieces –“ Five Bagatelles” is similar. The pieces are not, I think, intentionally pastoral or Autumnal but, like ”Eclogue”, they speak of English apple orchards; of village merrymaking; of red sunsets: of the gathering in of the harvest; of misty damp mornings and spiders’ webs; of lowing herds and an England that is perhaps no more. My particular favourite is the third Bagatelle which is entitled “Carol” - a very quiet, reflective piece and similar to “Eclogue”.
Berries on the hedge -
a sign of a hard winter?

Finzi had first written "Carol" in December 1925 for the daughter of fellow composer Herbert Howells. It is a setting for a poem also entitled ‘Carol’ from the collection of poems “Severn and Somme” by 1st World War poet Ivor Gurney. The poem begins “Winter now has bared the trees............” All Gurney’s poetry reflects his love of the Gloucestershire countryside and his desire to return there from the devastation and death that he was witnessing each day on the Western Front. “Winter now has bared the trees” is as much a metaphor for the destruction and death of the war as much as it is a statement of the season. This, too, was something very near to Finzi’s pacifist heart – and in my view his sympathetic feeling for Gurney’s words come through in the music. The quiet combination of piano and clarinet give the piece a melancholy air of the fading year – Autumn.

And, finally, as I researched this blog I discovered something else – which I like. And those who have read my pieces before will make a connection from my recent blog “Smoke – and other things – gets In Your Eyes”. In that blog I mentioned the long running radio programme “Desert Island Discs”. One of the guests in that programme a few years ago was the broadcaster and antique porcelain - especially Royal Worcester - expert Henry Sandon. Sandon, has with his appearances over many years on the TV programme, “The Antiques Roadshow” become nationally and perhaps internationally famous – almost a national treasure. He is everyone's stereotyped picture of an Englishman – jolly, round of face, rich Worcestshire accent. He could easily be a character from Dickens’ “Pickwick Papers”. One can just imagine him sitting near a roaring fire with his pint of English ale in some country inn surrounded by the locals – or sitting with a jolly smile atop the haycart as the harvest is gathered in. And Sandon’s favourite piece of music, the one he would have on his desert island? – a piece by Finzi “Salutation” from Finzi’s “Dies Natalis”. And Sandon’s favourite book? – the great English poem of the countryside, the seasons and the years - Houseman’s epic masterpiece“A Shropshire Lad” – a poem very close to the heart of Finzi as a nostalgic depiction of rural life and young men's early deaths in war. A poem which would “fit” sublimely with “Eclogue” or “Five Bagatelles” :
Henry Sandon - porcelain expert
 and fan of Finzi

“........On Wenlock Edge the wood's in trouble;
His forest fleece the Wrekin heaves;
The gale, it plies the saplings double,
And thick on Severn snow the leaves........”

So, Goose Fair mornings, “Autumn Welcome” flags to brighten my street and the evocative music of Gerald Finzi – I’m almost already snuggling down with my cup of cocoa, closing the curtains and forgetting the hot sticky unseasonal heat wave that we have had in the last few days. This morning as I showered I noticed, for the first time this year, a spider in the bath! When that happens we always know that Autumn is upon us. He scurried up the bath side as the spray fell into the basin and hid beneath the tap. I somehow managed to let him crawl onto my finger and I deposited him safely in the darkness of our bathroom airing cupboard – but no doubt he will be back again later today!

Yes, Autumn is here - "Autumn Welcome"!