Sunday, 9 August 2009

Sunday night is... Britten Sea Interlude 1: Dawn

I have long meant to put this up, but today Joan Bakewell chose it - not this recording (Leonard Bernstein) - on Desert Island Discs, and it reminded me. We saw Peter Grimes with Jon Vickers in the role a good few years ago. Quite overwhelming. And this is as good a sense of the North Sea coast in orchestral terms as I know.


Down to my father's birthday. We eat, eight of us, in a Cafe Rouge which he has booked, choose the Prix Fixes, two-course. He is determined to pay but so am I. I win this one. He looks a little smaller, a little frailer, a little greyer in the skin each year. He walks with great difficulty, so while the rest could walk down to the Rouge and back I zip him round in the car. Then we return to the house for home made birthday cake, which is delicious, and talk around the table. At 5 I say we have to go because we want to get to the wrestling at Yarmouth. But first he has to take me into his small study. The wall-mounted shelves fell off at 3am last night. That was where he kept some of my books, close on 30 of them. He wants to know what to do with them once he is gone. Hang on to it for now, Dad, I say. He looks so extraordinarily frail. This is the life-arc I tell myself. He wants to give me some photographs. They are of my mother in her youth, of himself as a baby with his mother and father and some others. They are small black and white pictures. I think I might scan some in. They are mostly in a tiny red note book which turns out to be the Hungarian Communist Party's Almanac for 1956, complete with dates to remember, an outline of the success of the first Five Year Plan (assuring to know it was a great success). C drives back half the way and I read through it, skim read it really. Inside, on the plain pages, are telephone numbers he must have scribbled down then at the very beginning of 1956. The rest, as they say, is history. I find it a moving and touching gift. I don't think he has thought about it as such, but this too is him.

This is the birthday poem. It is in simple verse in simple rhythm. It skirts everything we have always known really. In other words it skirts cliché.

A Song for Ninety-Two

I think of being ninety-two,
But find it hard to get that far.
Imagination won’t quite do
To help me see myself as you.
It’s like standing on a star
Trying to guess just where you are.

And I myself am sixty now,
But that was once as hard to see.
I’ve got there but I’m not sure how.
Perhaps our senses won’t allow
A foretaste of what is to be,
Because we like to think we’re free.

Where have we come from? Hard to say.
We move through time as over grass,
Shifting position day by day,
Not made to take root or to stay.
We love, are loved, and then we pass
Like light or darkness through clear glass.

We like to think of glass as clear.
Transparency: the seeing through
The sheer delight of being here,
To say
my darling and my dear
As if such words were always new,
And love was me and love was you.

We like such things. That’s how we are.
Without them we’d be smoke or dust
Drifting along from star to star,
The distance between us much too far.
We’re shining metal but we rust.
We like and love because we must.

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