Thursday, December 20, 2012

16.10.68 My flatmate arrives

This might be the last of these posts for a couple of weeks: I'm away in Christchurch babysitting the house of some friends.  

16th Oct 68
Dear Mum, thanks for the added amount on the postal notes – they gave me 10d on each one – which seems to me rather a lot, but he went away and looked it up and everything, so I didn’t complain.  But listen, you’ll have to stop spending half your pay each week on me like this.  It really is a bit much.  By the time you've paid for the stamps and excess on the P.N.s, and everything else, it must cost a small fortune.  You’ll have to be a bit more moderate really – or else I’ll have more money here than you! 

Kingsley arrived on Monday, though hardly as planned.  In fact I spent a very frustrating day on Monday.  I seemed to recall that he was arriving in the afternoon, so as I was finished at the Centre at 4.15, I tootled off to Earls Court to meet him, thinking that he would probably be there by then.  When I got there, he wasn’t, and it turned out he was booked in at the Salisbury Court Hotel, just around the road. So round the road I went, and he wasn’t there either. So I rang the Air Inquiries up to see when the flight from Vienna was to come, and they told me it would be about an hour late, at 6.30, which meant it would come into the West London Terminal at about 7.30.  So I wandered round there and waited patiently till then – about an hour and a quarter, and then went down to the bus part to meet him.  At about 8.30 there was still no sign of him, and I was a bit anxious to know what to do.  I kept ringing up the hotel to see if he’d gone straight there, and getting them to send out calls for him at the airport, but there was no news of him anywhere.  So I went and had a bite to eat, and then walked back to the Salisbury Court hotel, only about ½ of a mile, and left a long note with instructions and the other key for the flat.  And went home.  I decided to ring back when I got to Plaistow to see if he had arrived. The first phone booth didn’t have the book in which the number I needed would have been, the next one found the hotel engaged, the next one wouldn't take the 6d and the girl at the other end just kept saying hullo until I rang off, the next one was quite dead, the next one had the earpiece missing, the next had the whole receiver missing, the next was dead, the next was so wrecked it wouldn't even sit on the ledge, and in the next a man was doing his weekly accounts I think, because he seemed to be waiting for someone to ring back, and in the last one I tried there was nothing to put any money in! I should have known I think that there was something behind all this but I was getting so mad...!  Anyway, I burst into the flat to find the boy in bed!!  And I get mad again to think of it.  He’d arrived in the morning, coming on an earlier flight if you please, and even then he’d arrived at the West London Terminal, had somehow come to the conclusion that it was closer to Plaistow than to the OVC, if you can believe, and had gone out there.  He was lucky to strike Mrs Marshall home.  I didn’t go mad at him, though I really felt like doing so – he could have at least rung me, I think, and anyway I was rather over being mad at anything by that time – I’d cursed and sworn at so many phone booths that I’d calmed down a bit!

However he seems to be getting on all right and he’s sort of reasonable round the flat and helpful – if that doesn’t sound like granddad talking!  [It sounds more like Grandma talking.] But I arrived home tonight, at 8.15 to find him in BED!  Bit strange, but never mind. 

Was out at the Crowls again at the weekend, though this time we didn’t really go anywhere much  - I had to go and play for someone from the Centre on Sat morning, up in Baker Street way, and this made everything later.  I’d been able to warn the Crowls fortunately. (And I got ten bob for my playing too!)  We were to go to Hatfield House, but it was closed till Easter and we looked in at the tail-end of a Fayre, in the grounds.  Then home, and Nina and Margaret and I watched some very curious TV.  On Sunday, I had to spend quite some time doing languages, but Reg and went for a short trip up to a very uninspiring church, in the very last Northern London suburb. 

Ella Gerber arrived today, and seemed to leave chaos (!) behind her because she has such different ideas of the three pieces of Opera we’re doing that we’ve all had to rethink. And unfortunately she knows very little about music, so I really wonder if she will be of any great value – she may give the singers some acting ideas – there’s no doubt she is a fairly good producer, but as far as producing opera goes, I don’t really think she knows enough.  She knows what she wants with Porgy and Bess, but we have some considerable doubts about it being what Gershwin wanted!  Anyway now that she’s here we’ll have to put up with her I guess.

We’re having a rather tiring week – at least I am.  On Monday of course I spent the time looking for his lordship, and last night he and David Syrus and I went to [a] film that we will probably miss otherwise, and then we didn’t get home till about 10, and then I had to get myself something to eat, tonight we had Miss G. until 7.30, and tomorrow we have a dress rehearsal of the Opera For All Manon, and on Friday we go to see The Magic Flute in the morning and then have Ella for the rest of the day, and then we have her again on Sat morning.  And somewhere along the line we’re supposed to be doing the work for our ordinary classes.  But I feel tired out already!  Oh well, I suppose we’ll get there.

Kiri, and another girl from the Centre are in an opera (being done in concert version) at the Queen Elizabeth Hall – adjoining the Festival Hall, on Friday night, and I’d rather like to see that too...  It’s just impossible, though. 

Well, for once I seem to have some room on the end of a letter.  Have you sent those clothes to Francisco at all.  If you do will you let me know and I’ll let them know that it’s coming.  Or do you think they’ll be too small for him already? [Francisco was a Korean boy whom I had been supporting for some time in a Korean Orphan Scheme run by a Catholic priest in the country.] 

[handwritten] well, that seems to be it, and look at all the space I’ve got.  LOTS OF LOVE, Mike. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

10.10.68: Concerts and Operas

Dear Mum (the 10th), got another one of your big letters yesterday, and an a/gram the day before, and along with the latter, a letter (!) from C[harles]. Spain, telling me that they’d taken up a collection for me at the A.G.M. of the [Dunedin] Opera Co and that they've credited me with £8-8-7, which seems an awful lot now!  I can’t make out though whether they've forwarded the cash to my BNZ a/c here or at home.  Since he says it’s sterling, I thought perhaps he’s managed to send it to the UK, and I’ll check sometime with the Bank and see.  If he has that would be great.

How’s Auntie Annie?  [One of my great aunts in Dunedin.] I was rather distressed to hear that she’s now on a downhill path – however happy she may be, I’ve hated to see the aunts sort of one-by-one vanishing.  And Tess would be so lonely, too.  [Tess and Anne had lived together as spinster sisters for all their lives, after fiancés were killed in the Great War.]

Re Confession, I’m going tomorrow – and I hadn’t forgotten...!  It’s taken rather a while to find out even when they have it.  I’m going out to the Crowls again on the weekend.  I feel a bit guilty – up to a certain point – because I rang them the day after they got back, and though Reg was going to write and invite me again that day, I hope they didn’t think I was hinting, or anything.  But truth to tell I’ve got very attached to them (apart from the fact that they’re so generous and I really felt like talking to them again.

Michael came back too last weekend, and called at the flat (may as well call it that) with Kate while I was out, on Saturday. However he left a note to ring him, and he and I went out, after our various occupations, on Monday night, and saw a new version (and a not over wonderful one) of The Beggars Opera. Apart from a darn good comedienne and some interesting, and very modern orchestration – curious combination of piano-celesta-harpsichord with a load of percussion, a bass fiddle, a clarinet, a horn and bassoon!  Mike got a year at the Immigration – so he’ll be here at least that much longer! 

I should have written to Kingsley before he left and made some more definite arrangements about meeting him, but it wasn’t until mail started arriving here for him that I realised he was nearly coming.  Actually the mail must have been sent before he left, which seems a bit curious, but....!  Anyway, I’ll definitely leave some message at the OVC when he does arrive – I can’t even tell him now how to get to London from the airport and thence to the OVC, but he’s got more self-assurance than I, so he’ll find it, no doubt. 

SISTER ST ANNE!!! Isn’t that fantastic – it’s rather strangely like a lot of other odds and ends in the coincidence line that have cropped up since I arrived, and which seem to make me feel as tho I’ve done the right thing. [No idea what the coincidence was, but Sister St Anne had been my first music teacher, and I just loved her. She was still teaching music up until a few years ago, and had hardly changed a jot.]  EG, the first concert I attended included the Mozart Piano Concerto we worked on in the first Music School [in Dunedin], and the Bach P.C. [?] of the next year turned up on the radio one morning, then there’s been the number of NZers I met in the first week, the fact that Albert Herring figures so prominently in the programme for the Centre, etc. [I had been one of the two repetiteurs for the NZ Opera Co’s production of Albert Herring a year or so before this.]  Actually, over the last couple of days, I’ve had one of my depressive bits again – caused once again partly by a comment somebody made on the immoral state of a party that had been held – how he was supposed to have known when he didn’t attend it I don’t know, and so I’ll take that with a grain of salt, and the other thing was that whereas I thought I was going quite well in my playing of The Telephone, over the last day or so it seems to have fallen apart, and though the Senior Coach, Sheila Thomas, has been quite sympathetic to me and keeps saying how hard it is, etc, I feel I should be able to do better with it, particularly as the other two works in the programme are harder to play.  And just when I think I’m sort of playing not too badly, one of the singers or stage managers will turn around and play almost as well as I ever do! I wonder then whether I’m even remotely near to being of the right standard required.  It’s funny because earlier on this week, I’d been quite happy about it all.  However, I must persevere for the reasons mentioned in previous letters at least for a year, and perhaps by that time I’ll really know whether it’s worth while going on or whether I should go home and a ditch-digger.  I sometimes feel quite a lack of musical education and that I’ve a tremendous long way to go to catch up, but it seems as though most of the NZeders are in the same boat.  I’ll have to somehow combat this negative approach I think and plow ahead as though it didn’t matter.  Lots of prayers I think. 

I must certainly write to Sister SA and I’m sure I can manage to do it without cutting you out!  It seems ages since I wrote to you anyway.  ?. 

Went to The Bartered Bride at the NFT on Sat evening – a 1932 film vaguely based on the opera, but with a much better working of the plot and only occasional use of the actual music but very energetic and taken at a frantic pace.  The only bug-bear was the necessity of ear-phones for a translation (it was in German – bits of which I understood!), but one had to remove them to hear the music, which of course they didn’t translate!?!  On Sunday, though I had been going to go to another film, I changed my mind at the last minute, on looking in my wallet, and went for a walk on the Victoria and Albert docks instead.  They were absolutely deserted, and vast.  But it wasn’t really greatly interesting, and so I just wandered around a bit – and think I discovered the location that they used at one stage of the film Bedazzled there.  On Tuesday, by sheer luck, Mike and I were able to go to a Festival Hall concert – best seats at cheapest prices again – when we thought we wouldn't be able to, and we saw the best concert I’ve ever attended.  First Leonora No 2 by Beethoven (one of his four overtures ! to Fidelio – he was unsatisfied with 3) and then Barry Tuckwell, the big man in the horn-playing line, played a Mozart Concerto – with a distinctly funny last movement.  This man plays the horn in the manner of one of those old film actors who are so obviously being dubbed because they don’t move a muscle emotionally or physically, apart from actually sort of moving around the instrument, whatever it is.  And yet the sound and music he makes is fabulous.  And lastly [handwritten] aaagh, I’m not going to get it all in after all – I’ll start another letter.  Luv Mike.

Next aerogram...
What I was going to say at the end of the last letter was that lastly they played Mahler’s First Symphony, with a rather augmented orchestra: five trumpets and that sort of thing.  It was conducted by Jascha Horenstein, who although he isn’t that well known in London has quite a reputation as a Mahler man – he must be about 70, [he was indeed seventy, and died only five years later] and yet to conduct with the energy he uses would take a 17-year-old all his time.  You recall the Mahler 4th I’ve got at home and which we both liked?  It has the lady singing in the last movement and she and the flute sort of get carried away as though the record was being speeded up?  Well, the first is so obviously the same composer at work that parts of the two sound identical.  It hasn’t the long slow movement of the fourth symphony, but has instead a minor-key version of Frere Jacque! (plus another counter-tune eventually running along the top).  The whole symphony is based on the interval of a fourth – if you sing F.J. to yourself you’ll strike a fourth when you go Ding dong ding.  Of course apart from the fourth, there is a lot of surrounding material, but all his thematic material, on which each movement is based derives from this fourth interval.  Remember on the way to ChCh I was telling you about the B. Britten War Requiem, and how it is all based on the interval of a second?  Well, the idea is the same.  And it is fantastically well orchestrated.  I was trying to do what we’d been told that day in our reps class – to approach all older music as though it was new, and to try and feel how people must have when a thing was considered revolutionary.  (Vice-versa, new music needs to [be] approached as though we were already familiar with it!)   Going on this basis, the music is really fabulous – though one can see why Mahler has so long been neglected.  The last movement of the symphony, which by comparison with the other three is a wild fury, was so exciting that the audience went mad at the end and clapped for positively ages. We even stood up in the end and clapped, and people were shouting bravo – especially Alistair Dawes (see previous ref.) who had sat through the whole work as though any minute he might get up and conduct with Horenstein. and who is mad on Mahler – after that performance, anyone would be I think.  I’ve never felt so terrifically excited by anything musical before, and it really was a unique experience.  [It’s hard to imagine now that at this point, Mahler’s music had hardly been heard for the previous thirty or so years.]

The next night we were allowed into an Aida  general rehearsal, which was fabulous as far as the leads went – the Aida was so beautifully sung, and the tenor was rather glorious too.  The girl who played Amneris, who is sort of the villainess of the piece, had tremendous stage presence, for an opera singer, but hadn’t half the voice of the principals.  The sets were fantastic.  The opening scene is all gold and black, and the costuming likewise – the next scene is the inside [of] Amneris’ tent, which transformed into the huge courtyard where all the spectacle bit comes in, and then we had a scene at night near the Nile, with it all sort of gorgeously blue, and the costuming again fitting in, and then finally the interior of the prison, first just two doors with a set of lamps between, and then this goes and we see the tomb on stage level and a great slab is lowered on chains, and people move about on this upper area, which has steps leading off etc. Unfortunately, until the 3rd Act, by far the best musically and dramatically, none of us Opera Centre people could take it very seriously (most of the students were there) because in the second part of the first scene the wall at the back opened out and a dozen or so ballerinas, appropriately dressed, came out and did the most untidy ballet I’ve ever seen, and then in the next scene in the tent, there was a male ballet, which was equally sloppy, and then in the next scene, after one had got over the rather hysterical process of the same dozen men coming on again and again with different banners  - going out one side and coming in the other again – and they were always out of step! – there was another ballet in which not only did they not seem to know what they were supposed to be doing quite, but the lead ballerina was almost dropped into the pit by her three men supports.  She went head over heels between the 3, and after we’d got over the initial shock of seeing her slip into their arms upside down, it was impossible not to laugh at the sight of this very neat lady with her legs sticking upwards at two quite ridiculous angles!  In the tent scene there had been a male lead dancer and he’d done some acrobatic things over his supporters and almost fallen head first to the floor off one of their shoulders!  In the third act, the lighting, which was the aforementioned blue, suddenly went pitch-dark, then all the working lights came up and revealed the set as it really was, and this happened two or 3 times during the act.  The conductor had to stop several times because of the chorus who didn’t seem to know some parts of it, and one poor small-part man was constantly in the wrong place!  Apparently he’d played another part in the same production and there was always some production assistant coming up and telling him he was wrong!  What a night.  But the singing was good. 

Here are some more students:- Hazel Sharples, a Negress with an irresistible laugh, and who is very friendly, and who like many of the students isn’t a Londoner – lots of them feel about it the way I do. That it is marvellous to be there.  She’s a SM. [She was actually from Guyana – I had no idea where that was at that time – and a year later we were seriously considering getting married. She went on to have a successful career as a stage manager, and died suddenly in 1995. A book prize for stage management students at Guildhall is named after her.]  Tony Something, a baritone, a Welshman, who spends more time laughing at himself and life in general than anyone I’ve ever met.  Formerly a teacher, and one of those people you can insult on very short acquaintance.  Moyra [Moira] Paterson, one of several Scots, who with Joyce McCrindle, another, has spent all this time looking for a different flat.  They’re right at the other end of one of the tube lines I’m on.  I’ve got to some work with Joyce on Sat morning near Baker St, somewhere. Tessa Cahill, a slightly plump, but very attractive and very efficient sop.  Loreen [Laureen] Livingstone, a diminutive Scots soprano, with very dark hair, and a very quiet way. Oh, dear, look where I am again. [handwritten] There’s just never enough room on these things.  Not to worry.  Luv Mike.

Monday, December 17, 2012

3.10.68 - Students and subsidies

Letter not dated but postmarked 3rd Oct, 1968

Dear mother, you silly old thing, just because your little poem upset me a little once doesn’t mean to say that you should give up what is obviously a new career opening before you!  The first time I read it, it had an amusing effect – I just read it again, on the wrong day.  But while we’re on the subject, so to speak, of upsetting things, I’d better say that for this Course to be worthwhile in the long run, I’ll have to stay in the UK after it’s over.  Not that I wouldn't come home tomorrow, if I could bring London with me!  But, presuming that I come out of it all with the degree of success expected, I can see obviously that it would be a waste to go straight home again – not that they wouldn't like me anymore, or find something to do with me, but there’s that much more room for expansion, here, and since I seem to be cut out for something in this line, it’s no use constantly chopping and changing for the rest of my life.  I know you will understand, and I know too that the amount you miss me, is equal at least to the amount I miss you and everybody else at home.  But it seems the Good Lord intended things to go this way – you never know he might change the whole look of things tomorrow, and I may find that things are different entirely. Anyway, that’s the position as it stands.  To think that I might never see Dunedin again doesn’t bear thinking about, as you realise, I know, but when I hear, just for example, that to put a student through at the LOC costs somebody £1500! it’s only fair I should do my best to come out at the other end at least with the look of what I went in there for!  And even if there wasn’t a mysterious somebody paying that amount there are two unmysterious bods – you and me – paying considerably more, by contrast, towards my future, and I don’t think I should let us down.  It’s all very serious isn’t it, and I started out on this letter in a happy frame of mind, so as long as we can content ourselves with being as close as mum and son can across a few thousand miles, I dare say we’ll pull through.  I hope that hasn't upset you; don’t wish to make you miserable when I send you a letter.  [Until I re-read this letter I'd forgotten that someone must have subsidised me to go to the LOC. I don’t think I ever knew who it was: perhaps it was Prof Peter Platt, from the Music Department at the University of Otago who had spoken on my behalf to the LOC and who encouraged me to go; perhaps it was Bertha Rawlinson, the Dunedin singer.  Perhaps it was a group of people associated with the Dunedin Opera Company. I don't think I've ever known.]

Let’s change the subject. I sent a card to Marg. But it won’t arrive until after the date. It’s just a postcard – they’re 10d to post but at least it shows we’re thinking of her; after all I used to get on very well with her, didn’t I?  [Regrettably, I'm not sure who this ‘Marg’ was – I suspect she was more my mother's friend than mine.]

Finally wrote to Kevin R[owlandssince that seemed safer than trying to contact him at the theatre, and asked him if he’d let me know what was the best way of getting in touch with him.  [I was obviously feeling obliged to contact this man because our neighbours had been keen that I should do so, and you can read that in the lines.]

I still don’t feel that I am in London – I’ve just never got that feeling I expected of being in such a place.  I think for one thing it’s because the places seen in photos so often are quite different in reality.  Trafalgar Square looks impressive in a verydifferent way here to the way the photos make it look and so does Piccadilly Circus. Silly, isn’t it? Big Ben gets me though – it is remarkably beautiful – there’s something quite golden about the look of it, which is something that I’d never seen in photos.  And crossing over the Thames anywhere is something that I find enchanting. London skies always seem to be a sort of lovely grey, and the buildings go so well with this, and the river, that that’s my favourite part of the city, I think. 

Do send the Tablets, if it’s not too expensive – I haven’t had any yet, so they’re a treat in store.  [Again, I think this was note that I felt obliged to put in; I can’t remember ever feeling that strongly about the magazine.]

The school goes on as busily as last week, and when I’ve done a day there, I really feel as though I’ve been working. It’s the sheer concentration, I think. And my bottom is getting calluses on it from sitting on hard chairs so much!! 

We saw the dress rehearsal of An Italian Girl in Algiers last night, done by the LOC Opera for All Group.  (There are Welsh and Scots ones too.)  And it was a delight, after a slightly shaky start.  Rossini really was a comic master.  There is one ensemble – the story is too incredible for words of course – where seven mixed characters sing – everyone something different, on top of a simple um chah accompaniment.  And it’s so so funny – just because each time you think it’s going to go off in another direction it starts all over again.  The ensemble singing of the cast was excellent. 

While I have a bit of space let me tell you about some of the students, so that you’ll have something to refer to if necessary. John Opie! [he was actually Alan Opie, as I wrote in an earlier letter – the exclamation mark is because I’d worked with a Ramon Opie in the NZ Opera Quartet] from Cornwall, who is a baritone, and takes off my NZ accent – when I’m not taking off an East End one – there’s such a variety of accents at the school that we spend half the time taking each other off, and when it comes to a language class!  John has a good sense of humour – lacking in some of the more London type singers (and others).  David Cyrus [actually Syrus, who became my best friend out of the student intake of that year], a rep, a sort of ungainly boy, and awkward to look at, and who makes me feel as though there is perhaps someone else around whom I’m on a par with.  [David was, and still is, somewhat awkward in mannerisms – it’s part of his charm.  He was forever apologising, so much so that when I berated him for it in a letter from NZ once, after I’d been back here for some years, he sent by return mail an aerogram with a single, tiny word stuck in the middle on the page – ‘Sorry’. David would go on to be Head of Music at Covent Garden, where he began work in 1971 and still remains.]

Alistair Dawes, a rep, and friend from youth of the above.  Smokes a pipe, has a shock of hair (or perhaps the hair itself has had the shock!), and, like four of the reps, has permanent specs, and is able to be amused. (So is D.C)  Anthony Negus, the most pro of the reps – he freelanced in coaching last year [I conveniently forget at this point that I’d already worked for at least two years as a professional repetiteur and accompanist], is mad on Wagner, on opera in general, and looks hurt if you criticise anything [related to opera, that is]. Very confident, and generally with good reason.  Henry Ward, seemingly the odd-rep-out, no glasses, full of fire, apparently, but with an extremely lackadaisical attitude to work, and an intense dislike of stuff that doesn’t please him.  A very friendly smile but rather unapproachable (he’ll probably go somewhere). [I can’t find anything on the Net about Henry; he left LOC in the first half of the year, I think, because he didn’t feel it was teaching him anything, and possibly went onto a conducting job with one of the Northern Opera Companies.]  A.N. also pipes – his is worse smelling, (though still not unpleasant) than A.D’s.  Keith Stoppard, baritone, married to the daughter of a top Engineer (at present head of the Plessey Co in Aussie), an ex-engineer himself, and, unfortunately no relation to Tom Stoppard who is at present one of London’s top dramatists.  [I seem to remember Keith had difficulties as a married student juggling everything in his life; he was possibly the only married student apart from Kiri. I can’t find anything on the Net to say what became of him. He was one of the friendlier – and more mature – singing students.David Patmore, one of the S.Ms [stage management students], slight stutter (which makes his German tricky!) very friendly with the reps, and a very nice guy.  [He also became a good friend during this time.]  He and the other 4 reps are all ex-OXFORD!  What distinguished company.  [handwritten] Oxford can’t be so highbrow after all!  There are no girls here [in this list of names, rather than not at the Centre at all] because I can’t remember who they are from day to day – they change their hair styles.  [Yup, a pretty weak excuse – of course there were girls, and of course I already knew some of them.]  Love, Mike

Friday, December 14, 2012

30.9.68 - Travels and Travails


Dear Mum, how are the pair of you thriving?  I had a ridiculous day yesterday, Sunday, but quite interesting for all that.  In the morning I had decided to go to Mass at the Convent which is only a short distance from Newman Rd.  This was the first time I’d gone there because the first Sunday I went way up to the next parish and the last two have been spent in Wood Green. I arrived to find the place singularly quiet for a Catholic Church, and Mass just finished.  And not another!  However there was a priest there and we had a wee chat and he gave me a timetable on the newsletter, and said I could go to Mass at 12 at the main parish church down in the Barking Road. So I went home again and had breakfast, and then at 11.45 set off, thinking that this would give me plenty of time.  It turned out to be a longer walk than I anticipated but I made it with a second to spare.  On the way home it rained, and for once I didn’t have an umbrella.  So I got a bit wet, but it was one of those days when it suddenly pours out of a blue sky. 


I did some German – incidentally, the 3rd Programme is starting a German lesson series on Monday, so I think I’ll get their little booklet and listen to that in conjunction with the OC’s classes.  (I'm still not very enthused over the Italian lessons – which makes it harder; at least Frau Radinger has a marvellous sense of humour and we really have a good time learning, but in the other class we waste more time than anything.)


After this I had planned to go to see a Laurel and Hardy Quartet of films at the NFT.  It poured as I was setting out for Plaistow station. Anyway, saw the films, which were very good, without getting very wet on the way, and then hopped on the usual train to come back. The gremlins were at work again.  We got as far as Mansion House and the train was stopped and everyone told to change.  So an entire train-load of people walked up over to the next platform, and waited...and waited.  A guard told a group of people near me that someone had jumped under a train at Aldgate East which was between there and Plaistow. But at another station they reckoned that something had collapsed on the line.  Anyway, the next train was going to Tower Hill, a little further on my way, so I got on that.  And would have got a Circle Line to take me on a detour, avoiding the station where the trouble was.  However the wait at Tower Hill was even longer.  On the trip to there I picked up a wee friend, a boy of about 10 or 11, who was going North-East.  He and I had a discussion going to TH as to what was the best route for him to take, though I wasn’t a lot of help. At TH, I picked up my 2nd friend, a lady in her 30s, travelling with a great suitcase and a couple of bags, who knew her way around but who had got onto the wrong platform, and who was regretting having crossed over with her bags.  She didn’t say so, but obviously had, and anyway she was very helpful to us two kids in giving us an idea of the best way to get home.  A guard said that I’d have to go to Mile End, still before Plaistow, and get a bus.  However, no train appeared on our platform and so I offered to carry her case over to the other platform, where trains were going back the way we’d come, but where there was a chance of getting to Mile End.  So she very gratefully accepted, and we took our little boy with us, and crossed over and caught a train that was then waiting.  At Monument station we walked underground to Bank, got on the Central Line and were on our way. Actually we left her at Bank as the train which the boy and I got – it was his homebound one – wasn’t going far enough for her, and she waved and said God bless as we went.  She was very nice, but possibly a bit worried in case I took off with her case – people, according to Mike and K. don’t help each other much in London, but from things I’ve seen, just quietly, I think they’re wrong (M & K, I mean)!  Anyway, my little boy – who had a hair-lip scar – and I shot through to Mile End where he went on, saying thank you (I don’t know what for, because he probably knew more about it all than I do) and where by that time I was able to catch a very crowded train to P.  (This morning it was absolutely packed, and tonight was worse – I thought I’d seen the rush hour jam, but tonight when I put my arm up to take hold of the strap to hang on, I couldn’t get it down again, until we reached a station!)


My troubles weren't over: I’d bought some mince on Sat, and used half of it in my main meal on Sat, and had kept the rest for Sun. Was all organised, yesterday. I took the meat out of the cupboard, opened it, closed it, and threw it in the waste-bin, then I took the lot outside, and put it in the bucket!! Was I mad?  I thought it would at least last 24 hours!  Fortunately I had 2 sausages left over from breakfast, so I combined them in a thing called Italian Risotto Milanese, or some-such, substituting what I had in me larder for what they suggested in the recipe.  I think the only thing we both used was the rice!  However it did not kill me.  But I’m going to a different butcher in future.  Should never have trusted this one – he has the only dirty postcards I’ve ever seen hung up on his wall![I presume I meant that he was the only butcher who’d ever displayed dirty postcards. My inexperience as a cook keeps showing up in these letters; refrigerators were much less common, of course, and I don't think we had one at my home in Dunedin at that point, so keeping meat fresh was always a bit of an issue.]


Today at the OC the only thing I was down for all day was German, which seems a bit odd, but I went in at 10 all the same, and spent the morning doing things on my own, and this afternoon looked in on a coaching session by Norman Feasey*, one of the big reps in London.  Great on Wagner, apparently. (He was coaching Alan Opie, a baritone about my age, from Cornwall, and quite a friendly guy. He’s in one of The Telephone casts.) N.F was seated when I arrived, and I noticed as the lesson went on that though he was shorter than me when sitting he had enormous bone structure, so that when he did finally stand, he sort of expanded in all directions. 


Tomorrow is busy again, Wednesday not bad, although though I have the afternoon off, we’ve all got to go to a dress rehearsal of the Opera For All Group’s Italian Girl in Algiers at 6.00 which is a bit of a nuisance [handwritten] because it’s a waste of time and cash to go home in the afternoon.  Ann Gordon is in it.  Anyway I hadn’t intended to fill this whole air-letter!  Never mind.  Lots & lots of love Mike.


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

28.9.68: Washing and Wagner

Dear Mum, got a lovely long letter from you – incidentally as far as I know I’ve had all your letters; and have meant to answer things in them, but there’s always so much to tell you that by the time I’ve finished I’ve also finished the aerogram.  This time I will give you some answers.  The floods were all a lot south of London as far as I know – I’ve hardly bought a paper since I’ve been here; for one thing there are so many to choose from, and it saves those few pence a day.  Re Kevin Rowlands: I’m a bit unsure how to get hold of him really – I rather doubt that I’d get to see him at the stage door of the theatre, the way things are here, and it’s a bit of a trip up to the West End, unless I’m going that way, and when I am, I’m always in such a darn hurry to get somewhere that I don’t have time to sidetrack.  I’ll see if I can get hold of a phone number at his home address tomorrow – Sunday – and if that doesn’t work, I’ll just have to try ringing the theatre. When you see how busy I’ve been since the course started, you’ll realise that I don’t even seem to have much time in the day to ring anyone. [You get the impression I wasn’t keen to follow up on Kevin Rowlands. I’d heard about this man for some years – he was the only son of our direct neighbours across the street at home – and he was his mother's pride and joy because he’d ‘made’ it in London. He was a dancer, but I’d never met him at this point.] I’ve meant to ring both Kathy Tither, who’s now back from Spain, and Max Jarman, this week, but haven’t had the time.  [Max had toured with me in La Bohėme, when the NZ Opera Company had produced a piano tour version of it that travelled around both the North and South Islands. He was a young baritone and played the landlord, and any other odd part that needed filling in. He obviously went on to have a reasonable career – see this ‘cuttings’ page and this bio]

Congratulate the H’s on Philip, I don’t think I’ve even mentioned the poor kid yet!  [My uncle and aunt, Terry and Monica, had obviously had their fifth and last child/]

Very amused about Fred and the Blackbird; I’m glad too that she’s such good company for you. It’s a bit like the radio here – they’re so informative about everything (the 3rd [Radio 3] programme plays serious music most of the day, except for the odd play) and they explain all sorts of interesting points, and I quite feel as though it’s someone talking to me particularly all the time! 

Tell Kingsley sometime that the rent is £5 a week between us; but his fares may cost him another pound going to and from the Guildhall each week, and food is sometimes surprisingly expensive; meat, eg, is fantastic, and yet other things are so cheap that you wonder if they've charged you for everything! [Kingsley was to be my flatmate, and hadn’t arrived at this point. As I anticipated, when he did arrive, he found the cost and the travel from Plaistow too much and didn’t stay long.]  The meals at the Opera C. are filling enough and I only need to have a reasonably cheap snack when I get home.  [For the life of me I can’t visualise where the cafeteria was, or what it looked like, at the Opera Centre.] I imagine that they have a cafeteria at the Guildhall too. We have to put a 1/- in the slot for electricity here, which is sometimes annoying because it always seems to happen when I’m cooking, and shillings are very hard to get because everyone wants them for the same reason.  At the moment I have a fair supply, however, and Mr M. down-stairs says I only need to ask if I do run out as he keeps 10/- worth.  Mrs M occasionally makes my bed only because she happens to be trotting around with the sheets which she says she will always do – she got quite a surprise when I did the first one!  [I say first one, but my memory is of doing both sheets, in the bath, and having a great deal of trouble trying to wring them out. She realised what I was doing when I tried to find somewhere to hang them.] And she has offered to take our washing along to the laundrette with hers as things get wetter. At the moment the weather is still quite reasonable, though it has poured a few times.  I did my washing about 10.30 last night, and put it out and it was dry this morning. Nina suggested putting my underclothes between hot water bottles to dry them, and this has worked well so far, and I hang my shirts in the little sun-room sort of thing at the back of the house, where they seem to air quite well.  And tell K[ingsley] there is a tea-pot! 

To change the subject again, I haven’t had any Tablets yet, but presume they’re coming by a slower post. [This was the Catholic national magazine, produced in Dunedin. I eventually wrote book reviews for its successor, Tui Motu.]  At the mo there is a big controversy about the 5d and 4d new mail system, and it’s quite likely that if anything has still to come via the OVC it is still being sorted, because apparently things are a bit chaotic.  The 5d mail is stuff to be delivered the next day, and the 4d is stuff that isn’t urgent, and they say that they are taking the 4d mail right out of London to sort! 

I took a bunch of flowers to Mavis last week, only 2/6 but the thought is the main thing, and they won’t let me pay for teas when we have them, so! 

Now to continue the story. Up until about Wednesday, I was still feeling as though perhaps I’d done the wrong thing coming to the Centre, as I seemed to be putting my foot in it quite a lot and saying things during classes that seemed to take the instructors aback a little, but I think this was either my imagination or else I was still feeling my way rather a lot. However all sorts of people are very friendly, even though they don’t look as though they’re going to be, and I’m now really enjoying it, (although I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard continuously before – what with the housework, etc) and looking forward to it all.  On Tuesday we had a whole morning on Traviata; the 5 reps playing through a section which was then commented on by Mr Rob[bertson]. James Robertson had been a well-known opera conductor in the UK as well as working with the NZ Broadcasting Orchestra for a time before I met up with him.] and played by him to show what could be done, or should be done; and the other reps and stage managers (!) sang the parts. Very musical s.m’s, ha ha. [This wasn’t the favourite class of the stage management students, and I seem to recall, as time went on, that they appeared less and less at these sessions.] Mr R’s comment, rather quietly to me – I was the first pianist – was, ‘not exactly up to Royal Choral Society Standard yet, was it?’  I don’t know if this was sarky or not!  [It would have been. He wasn’t the friendliest of people, and we never quite seemed to hit it off. I think the Opera Centre was something of a backward step, career-wise, for him, and he was often frustrated with the students.] And later in the same lesson he asked if any of us were interested in conducting, and I said I wasn’t worried about it, as his Personal Assistant, June Megennis, had said there was more opportunity for coaches these days than conductors.  And once again I felt as though I’d said the wrong thing.  (When he brought the subject again up yesterday I didn’t feel so bad, so as you can see perhaps it was just me that first morning.) Anyway, none of the other reps seemed any better than me, or worse, so I ceased to worry about it. 

In the afternoon I was supposed to have two coaching sessions, one on my own, and the other sitting in on a session with a professional. rep.  The singer had gone home by mistake for the first session, so I did some work on my own, but the other one was very interesting.  We spent nearly an hour discussing whether or not appoggiaturas (which is sort of changing what’s written for the better) should be used in a piece of recit (the guff that goes on before an aria) and it was quite fascinating.  Then we had Italian, and unfortunately the teacher isn’t a patch on the German lady, so we’ll just have to do most of the work ourselves. The G. teacher works on the individuals, which can be terrifying, but also very satisfactory, but the I.T. just works on the class as a [handwritten] whole, and one doesn’t learn
continued in the next letter.

[handwritten] and thank you for the postal notes.[typed] things properly, particularly the pronunciation.  Never mind, no one is on their own, and the other students have talked about it with me, and it’s great to see one’s own ideas agreed upon.  This is what is marvellous about the place, of course, it has the music school atmosphere plus the serious approach to everything. [I had attended at least two Summer Music Schools in Dunedin before I did any touring in NZ – I think. They were held at John McGlashan College, and we slept in the dorms. At one of these I played the piano in a movement from a Mozart Concerto, and in another I conducted a one-act opera: Down in the Valley, by Kurt Weill. This was addition to doing lots of accompanying, and even having one of my own compositions performed by a small ensemble. There were plenty of serious people at these, but we also had an enormous amount of fun.]  Not entirely serious of course – one of the reps is a bit gloomy, and another seems a trifle aloof, but generally we’ve got a sense of humour, and the singers with a few exceptions are a pleasant enough crew.  Those that I’ve really met.  On Wed morning I had two singers, coaching, on my own, and then German again.  This was a very satisfactory morning.  In the afternoon we were divided up with the singers who will be attending a master-performance-class with Ella Gerber, who produced Porgy [and Bess] in NZ, I think, and who will produce, in ten days, the first act of The Consul, by Menotti, The Telephone, a one-acter by the same, and sections of an act of P & B.   She will sort of comment on American opera as she goes along which is the whole idea, and then the three things will be performed somewhere for the Friends of Covent Garden.  I rehearsed with two of the singers in The Telephone -  there are only 2 characters – and it has now transpired that I will be playing the performance of it (only piano perfs) with one of the other reps conducting.  [I had played for this opera back in Dunedin at an earlier point.] We sorted all this out yesterday afternoon when we went through the three setting tempi with the singers, Mr R and the two ladies who are sort of senior coaches. I think one is a Miss Nash. [I got on very well with Miss Nash – she was very much more approachable than Mr R!]  This is quite exciting really as it has to be up to performing standard in about three weeks time, and we also have to know enough about the other two works in each case to be able to play them at rehearsal if necessary.  And I’m not worried, so I must be enjoying myself!!  Mad....

On Thursday morning we went straight from our homes to Covent Garden and sat through the first act of a dress rehearsal of Götterdämmerung.  Typically Wagner, it starts off with three ladies (Norms) who stand on a pitch black stage, just spotlit on them, and sing for a quarter of an hour.  But it really was interesting, once it got past them.  This is the opera that we saw being recorded by Georg Solti on TV, remember? And on Thurs night the other two acts were performed – back to front – with only those from the OC who wanted to be there (in the morning the place was full of Friends of C G), and we sat in much better seats – went in through the stage door, in fact.  And the conductor was....Georg Solti.  Marvellous.  The last act, which we saw first at night, has the bit where Brünnhilde immolates herself, and anybody else who happens to be around, and burns Walhalla down.  And they do it all before your eyes.  First she throws a not very burning torch behind a pillar, and shortly flames (lights pouring up the scenery, but quite effective) flood across the stage, and then the lighting changes, as the scenery collapses! It did. And across the front of the stage is a gauze curtain which when lit a certain way represents an arc of the sky, somehow, it’s hard to describe, and then the lights behind the curtain come up again, and we see Walhalla  in the distance being burnt; it disappears, and we see a twinkling sky rather like the Milky Way, this goes, and we see on the stage itself, half of the rock that Brünnhilde lived on, now broken with all the back gone, and in the distance, the 3 Rhine Maidens gracefully waving, and this vanishes, and the ring that encircles Walhalla (it had appeared throughout the opera, as a platform, sort of, and also encircling those great massive pillars, the ones that collapsed, and turned out to be canvas!) appears lying flat on the stage, looking a bit shattered, and then this goes too, and all goes gloomy behind the gauze, and sort of fades away. I think I’ve got all that out of its sequence somehow, but never mind, it was a tremendous thing to see, on a stage. The backstage crew must have had their work cut out with that lot. 


Götterdämmerung is of course part of the Ring Cycle and all the way through this production the stage is graced with a Ring – Brünnhilde’s rock is a ring on a slant, and a scene in Walhalla is the ring on a different slant.  Rather precarious, really  - one young lady had to go shrieking out right from side to the other and down a flight of steps – it’s a wonder she didn’t break her neck. 


Between this I had two more coaching sessions and another Italian lessione. I was going to the opera with two of the other Reps that night – they went hairing off down the street after a bus, which I missed!  And so I tootled off in the other direction and caught a tube, and arrived with two minutes to spare.  Soaked through with sweat.  Ugh. 


Yesterday, neither of my advertised coaching singers came, so I did some work on my own, and then went to a lecture for the new students, with Mr R.  This was just a general run-down on things. In the afternoon we had the run-through of the three operas.  After this I did another scream through London to go to a film at the National Film Theatre called Cat People.  It turned out to be not very exciting, except in a couple of spots, and rather obscure, and rather hilariously full of clichés.  But the shorts were what they call a study extract, from Bringing Up Baby with Cary Grant and K Hepburn. Its 8 minutes were worth sitting through the other thing. And the other short was called the life of a cat, and in spite of including a scene where five kittens were born before your very eyes!, showed the kittens as they grew and played with their father and mother, both of whom, for once, lived at the same address.  It was very delightful, particularly when they started to play with their father: one, pouncing on his daddy’s tail, until father turns round and belts him, the father himself encouraging them to play by pushing them around a slippery floor, and so on. Marvellous. There’s a Laurel and Hardy session on tomorrow evening, so I’ll think I’ll go, and this afternoon I’m going in to do some practice when there’s fewer people around. [handwrittenYou've got to warn that you’re going in - they keep a GUARD DOG!!  Love Mike. [Which reminds me that I think they had a security guy there much of the time too, with whom I got on quite well.  But am I imagining that?]

23.9.68: The course starts...

Dear Mum – the 23rd! – and we’re away to a flying start.  [I presume this was the day the course at the Opera Centre started.] Just before I go on, I must say one or two things that I keep forgetting.  Thank you for all the odds and ends of news from home; you say that you haven’t answered my letters, but I’m just as bad.  Thank the aunts for their little St Cecilia; it may be a wee while before I can write – do you know I think it’s actually cheaper to write one of these air-letters than it is to send a postcard!  Last time I wrote I was going to answer one or two things and didn’t get any further than the [the cat] poem, which set me off again, and made me rather miserable; though it was after the more distressing day that I’d just had previously so it must have been a combination of both.  I’m all right at the moment, anyway.  What I’ve kept meaning to tell you about was the squirrel I met in Regents Park, the day I didn’t go to the Zoo.  This cheeky wee thing must have thought I would have some food, and it kept coming up and then running off, until it finally came so close I could have hand-fed it if I had had some food.  Must have got disgusted with me when it discovered I didn’t and ran off.  But it was quite beautiful, with a lovely silver streak down its tail. 

On Friday we had the concert that I mentioned, with Ann and Kiri, and it was held at a NZ club way down at Wimbledon.  We nearly didn’t get there – Kiri was driving this car of hers (she and her hubby, who is at present in Persia) have a neat wee sports model, I suppose it is, but holds four if you follow, and they live in the Kensington are, which is quite toney, really; Joan Sutherland is a couple of streets away!) and after we’d picked up Mrs Thelma Robinson, the ex-mayoress, by about 2 years, of Auck., who was arranging our side of it, we drove off towards W. via the Putney Bridge: - the approach, alone, to the bridge took 20 minutes of easing forward in the late rush-hour traffic!!  Ann came on much later by taxi.  This club is next to the famous tennis courts, and is run by a rather snobby class of NZer, who are exactly the same as that sort of group are at home – particularly in the Nth Is.  So it was really like being NZ, quite honestly, and just as phoney as that sort always are there. [My longstanding egalitarianism coming out.] However, there were some pleasant people amongst them, especially an old lady (they said she was 90) who had recently come from Honolulu, via USA, by leaps and bounds, and was the person I most enjoyed talking to and from whom I was dragged away too early.  The concert didn’t go off badly, although I got fouled up rather badly in one of Kiri’s numbers, and though I recovered was a bit put out by it.  She very nicely said after that we only learn by our mistakes, and if that makes her sound just a trifle uppity, she is, but rather more nice than uppity! (Fortunately). [Biographies of Kiri, discussing this period in her life, tend to agree with my ‘uppity’ assessment of her at this point in her career. She’d been somewhat spoilt as a student by having more money than most, gifted from her supporters in NZ; she’d already made a movie in NZ, and she was hugely popular in the country.

Luton Hoo as it was in 1829 -
it was substantially altered after this. 
Out to the Crowls for the weekend again.  Nina had a cold, so didn’t go to Luton Hoo with us.  This is a stately home near Luton (the Hoo means a hill), but the place is well known almost entirely for its art and such collection, as the house is a mess – having been so altered and changed and partially burnt that none of its once [original] glory remains.  But it has 3 Rembrandts!, and a host of really beautiful odds and ends, particularly in the miniature line; that is, tiny glass cases with a whole crucifixion scene inside and other such miracles of miniaturisation.  How they can (a) had the patience, and (b) been able to see what they were doing with these tiny things is beyond me.  Then we each did what we wanted in the evening: Reg and M. listened to Bonaventure on the radio, Nina and Marg. and I watched a film on TV.  [Luton Hoo, which I don't remember visiting at all (!) was converted into a hotel in 2007; the priceless art collection is now on display at Ranger's House in London. Interestingly, the Wikipedia article doesn't mention any Rembrandts!]

For a short while on Sunday afternoon, Reg and I went to see Waltham Abbey, which has great historical interest as it is right near where the 1066 battle was fought.  King Harold is supposed to be immured (after he was dead, of course) in the stone work, but they don’t know where. [Once again, my 'facts' may not be quite up to the mark.] And it is a beautiful church. Reconstructed, I should think, but very cleverly.  Small, but gorgeous, with a crypt (so has Clement Dane’s, which is in the middle of the Strand – in the middle of the street, along with another church!, and which I stumbled into one day) a ceiling of wood panelling, with, good grief (!), the signs of the Zodiac down the centre, a painted set of carvings on the altar, some small but crowded, and original stained glass windows, and most unusual of all, an American vicar, with, ugh!, the most nauseatingly hale fellow well met line of patter I’ve struck!  Outside is the remains of a mill – the watercourse (2 of them actually) is all that’s left – it runs right under the houses and street built next to it – and the archway that has been there since the original Abbey – just the archway!  But it’s marked historic monument – so?!  [I'd love to know who this American vicar was and what he was actually like....]

TODAY!  Nothing to do this morning, it was a get acquainted with the school time, but this afternoon I had my first German lesson, along with 6 other beginners, an Oxford student (all these are ex, of course), a Royal College Maltese girl: very sweet and attractive (I shared my book with her...ahem?!), a Scots girl, a music teacher and a female arts student (both stage management [students]) and another boy with an endless laugh. What a team! But we are getting there. The lady teacher is Frau (?) Radinger. And she’s very nice, and sweet and a happy sort of person. I was supposed to have a coaching session after that with one of the singers, but she didn’t turn up!  I found out after that she’d been called off to do another something, but nobody bothered to tell me! Aaagh!

Tomorrow will be a much bigger day – I was home at 4.45 today – with a reps’ [répétiteurs] class all morning and two coaching sessions, and an Italian lessione! Wed doesn’t look very busy, but Thursday is again. (We go to a Götterdämerung rehearsal in the morning, at Covent Garden, I think!)  Friday seems easier again.  We have lunch time lectures on Friday and they promise to be very interesting.  At the moment, I’m less worried about how bad I am by comparison, because even though the others have all done lots of varied things, they must be there to learn something too, so!  Met some interesting [handwritten from here] students; Peter Lyon(s), who is very talkative, and quite interesting as well; a tenor who has worked (toured rather) with the B + W Minstrel Show and the Scottish Opera, and so on.  I’ll write again when there’s been a bit more happened.  Lots of love, Mike XXXXXX
[Peter Lyon got on well over the year; he went on to work for the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, doing Gilbert and Sullivan roles.  After that he seems to have vanished from the Google history books.]

Saturday, December 08, 2012

20.9.68 Culture Shock and Shock of Recognition

Hullo, old soul, how are you and the kid? [The cat] You’re a regular genius, you know, that poem was a delight and really cheered me up; in fact I got 3 letters in two days, and that was marvellous.  But I’m afraid since then I’ve felt a bit depressed – almost as bad as when I was in Rome. Don’t know why, it just seemed to get to me yesterday, and yet I was quite enjoying myself.  So I’m sorry if this isn’t too happy a letter.  I know I’ll get over it, but it just seems to hit you every now and then, as you no doubt well know. I think, perhaps, once I get started on the course I’ll be all right, but at the moment I’m rather concerned about how it’ll all go. I don’t think I mind living in England at all, though morally I don’t think the climate is as good as NZ, and they’re worried about NZ – so!  [One of the most startling things to my eyes at this point, I remember, was a huge poster for a Swedish movie that hung from a building in Central London: the two actors were naked and making love.  Commonplace now, perhaps, but at the time shocking.]

Kiri put me off a little yesterday I think with her scandal sheet about some of the happenings last year at the school.  So between us (you and me I mean) we’ll have to pray like mad that I can steer clear of that sort of thing.  [I probably never told my mother about the many ‘scandalous’ things that did go on in the course of the year, amongst both students and staff.]

Well, that’s made me feel a bit better, but it’s probably made you feel worse.  I’m sorry about that, but at the moment you’re the only one I can really put everything straight to. Perhaps I shouldn't send this, just carry on typing until I’ve got it out of my system, and then destroy it? 

I’ve had a couple of meals at the Centre the last two lunch times – quite reasonable dinners at not too bad prices, so that would seem to help.  And saves me fiddling around till 7 at night cooking a big meal when I get home.  Not that I mind, I bought myself a little book called the No Time to Cookbook, and it’s already come in handy.  It has recipes for meals that take 10, 20 and 30 minutes so is quite good because they’re all fairly filling.  Some are a bit expensive, however, so I’ll stick to the cheaper ones. 

Did I tell you I gave the Crowls some chocs last time I was there; I’ll see if I can get some flowers for Mavis this time.  This will be the last weekend for a couple as they’re going on holiday. 

There have been two or 3 things I’ve meant to say for ages and keep forgetting.  First I must apologise on my bended knees for being so rude to you on the day I left – I know I’m always a bit shirty on that sort of occasion, but I seemed to be extra nasty that day.  I am really sorry.  Next to mention the little old houses that we saw going into Rome (!): several of them had little niches up in the wall and there would be a statue of Our Lady standing in them.  Similarly in London there are odd little statues hanging on buildings or sitting in some unexpected corner.  Very few religious ones of course, but occasionally I’ve seen a crucifix or somesuch hanging over a door.  And last night I saw the second of two quite absurd accidents: a taxi was standing in the middle  of Plaistow High St, with another car pulled up behind it, when a bloke in a little sports model pulled out from across the street (I think) and quite happily ran into the back of the car!  I don’t suppose he was too happy about it really, but it just seemed too silly to have happened.  No one hurt.  And another day this week a fellow who one minute was parked at the side of the street came suddenly shooting down and into the back of another parked car.  I don’t know whether his brakes suddenly failed or what!  And another titbit.  There is a little man with a moustache doing a buskers act outside one of the Piccadilly Circus theatres each time I go past.  he has a couple of people playing for him and sings and dances without a sign of strain, and he’s not all that young, either.

Onto what little I’ve done this week.  On Monday I went to the National Gallery and actually managed to get right round it, I think.  it’s amazing though to see half the pictures (well some!) that are in the Wonderland of Knowledge and other places just sitting there!  A whole room of Rembrandts, dozens of Italian paintings of the 16th and 17th centuries, and a host of others that you’d know by sight too I’m sure.  The funny part is seeing them in colour after looking at the black and white pictures for so long: it sure makes a difference.  [The Wonderland of Knowledge was a set of a dozen hardbound books covering a huge variety of topics of interest to a growing mind that had been in my home for as long as I could remember; I’d studied the pictures in it for years – though not the text so much – and so was familiar with many of these paintings when I came to see them live.] 

On Tuesday I joined the Nat. Film Theatre, which since it works out to something like a penny a day seems quite reasonable.  Plus the fact that you get a lot of free guff as well as free copies of Sight and Sound, the big Brit. film mag.  I also went in and saw something called [The Extraordinary Adventures of] Mr West in the Land ofthe Bolsheviks, a silent film which was extremely funny in a goon-show way. Mr West is an American senator who goes to Russia (complete with cowboy protection!) and gets involved with a gang who do him out of all his dollars. 

On Wed, I went to the Meistersingers which cost a pound, which is a lot.  I could have perhaps got in for less but it would have meant a killing evening’s sitting: the show starts at 5.15 and goes till 11.30!!  So I got a slightly better seat, and a marvellous view, and still didn’t have anywhere to put my feet!!  None of the London theatres think about this apparently.  But it was worth it.  There are two breaks, one of 15 minutes and another of 45.  Over a 100 in the orch, and more on stage.  Fantastic. 

Last night, because the Opera Centre got half price seats I went to a concert at the Royal Festival Hall.  And even though it’s a new hall, there’s nowhere to put your feet!   We got the cheapest seats, and they were still excellent.  It’s a great place: 3 huge floors all fronted by glass, looking out over the Thames.  They played my favourite Mozart Concerto, outstandingly, and two Beethoven bits. [Not at all informative; I don’t now know what my ‘favourite’ Mozart Concerto was.]  London is still small: the boy next to me was a NZer (so he said to his girlfriend!) and Gerald Krug, one of the Aussie Conductors during last year’s little trip of mine, was there with his wife.  At least I’m sure it was him.  He didn’t seem to recollect me when I sort of kept wandering around them at the interval, so I didn’t speak in case it wasn’t; but I’m sure it was!  People here don’t seem to expect to see anyone they know.  Going to Reg’s last week, there were three Americans on the tube [handwritten from this point on] who stayed on when I got off.  They turned up at St Alban’s Cathedral.  I wasn’t greatly surprised but the Crowls seemed to be! – when I told them, that is. I’d better go and do some work and have some breakfast etc.  An awful lot of love – Milke (who?) Mike.

[This business of meeting people I knew from New Zealand in such a vast congregation of people has always intrigued me. When Celia and I go on trips out of Dunedin we always keep an eye out for people we know, and usually meet at least one person.  But that’s in NZ.  When my wife Celia and my eldest daughter Stefanie  went to England around 1987, Stef was taken by some of her relatives in Northampton to the mall at Milton Keynes.  She met my cousin from Dunedin! When Celia and I were in England in 2007 we travelled some distance out of our way to catch up with another one of my cousins, whom I hadn’t seen in years. When we first arrived she was out, and the woman she lives with entertained us. When my cousin arrived, it was with my uncle from Dunedin in tow – I hadn’t even known he was over there.]

Thursday, December 06, 2012

15.9.68 - St Alban's and a second cousin


This great photo appears on a blog by
Jeremiah Watt.  It gives some impression of
St Alban's beauty. 
Dear Mum, England is at present having the sort of floods we had earlier this year – great chaos, but not where either the Crowls or I live.  I rang Kiri tonight, but she’s a victim of the floods and is still down south somewhere according to Ann Gordon, who was at K’s place.  They’re going to let me know tomorrow. Well, I went out to Woodland Way yesterday, and started the stay off with dinner!  Then we went on our projected tour of St Albans – this time Nina, Mavis’ sister wasn’t with us, but was looking after someone sick.  We got to St A’s (by the way, the town of St A’s is very attractive, it hasn't been too spoilt with lots of new blocks but retains its nineteenth and earlier century charms) and went in and walked down to the West End of the church.  It’s the most remarkable building: part of it dates back to 1077 (!) then another wall dates from a century or two later, and is different in style, then another bit had been added again in a different style, and consequently the whole place could be a mess. As far as design goes it probably is: nothing quite lines up with anything else: the roof is at least four different heights, and has a 19th century ceiling in one part, another bit is painted with squares of two or three different colours, the next bit is vaguely polka-dotted with a variety of colours, the next bit is beautiful, and so on!  There is a lady altar, which is very attractive, but fairly simple, then the main altar, but in the middle part of the church, which is the smaller part than the west end which is for a big congregation, has an altar depicting the Resurrection and must have over 50 statues, all about 2 or 3 feet high, and a number of smaller ones, all quite different and depicting various saints, and a larger crucifix in the middle.  Fantastic!!

St Alban’s tomb, if you walk into it, is interesting but decaying, but approach it from the lady altar, and the three arches in front of it take on a strange light, and there is a curious pink glow about it all, which seemed to have no particular source. The amount of carving, not only of the statues but of endlessly detailed and decorated archways, and pillars, is astonishing.  There are murals, now being cleaned, that date back to the beginning of this particular church, and there are stones in the tower, I think, that were used in the building of the Roman town of Verulamium, or somesuch, next door, which must date back to the first or 2nd centuries!  There has been a church there since the 3rd, of some sort.

But we ran into troubles again – last time we couldn’t get in.  This time we got down to the West end, and Reg (which is what I’m to call him) wandered off into the middle while we other 3 were admiring some plaques that dated back to 1686, and next thing we found Evensong had begun and we couldn’t follow Reg through.  The same little man was stopping us at the door between the two parts.  So we went out the West door and back in the other end, and another man said would we sit down, so we did, sighting Reg trapped, somehow, on the other side of the door, which he’d managed to go out though we couldn’t come in it! The service went on and on, and though we tried to leave during on bit, we were asked very firmly to sit down again! And the choir, of boys and men, which though it was very good, sang the same sort of thing over and over again, seemed never to stop!  Trapped!  In due course it all came to an end, but we were a bit annoyed, really, because it had taken up so much of the short time we had.  Not to worry. 

After this we went and had tea and cakes – indispensable; I’m even beginning to think so myself – homemade, too, at a little place just up the street.  Home, and then we had tea proper!  After this we watched the last night of the Proms on TV – the last night of 52! – but it was the 2nd half and all pretty rowdy – the audience is quite mad on the last night. [At this point the Last Night of the Proms wasn't something I knew much about.] Reg then went out to collect Nina, and he made a tape on his return of me playing some music, as well as all the chat that went on in between.  I’m afraid I wasn’t too happy with my playing, but it seemed to come out quite well on the tape.

This morning to Mass just down the road, and very crowded it was too.  It was a High sung Mass, but the music didn’t seem to be particularly interesting.  At least the hymns were familiar. 

This afternoon Reg and I had a game of chess which he won...!  I had him fooled for a while, though; he wondered what the new opening was that I made: completely Crowl! [In other words I was making it up as I went along; my usual amateur tactic – Reg could actually play well.] This afternoon, too, we went and visited Winnie Crowl, Reg’s cousin, my second, according to her, and she’s a lovely old lady, not that old, I suppose, about 60-something, but very bright.  A Cockney too.  She pronounces her name to rhyme with Crow, which is curious, because Reg pronounces it the way we do [rhyming with Owl].  She lives in a maisonette, which is the upper floor of a semi-detached – I think – near Arnos Grove.  Which is near where Anne and Pat live.  She’s invited me to come round any time I feel like letting off steam!  She says she’s a good listener, but she is very easy to talk to.  It’s marvellous how pleased these people are to see me – perhaps it’s my origin, i.e., from NZ, or perhaps the fact of whose son I am – though Reg reckons that anything I want to know about you Winnie can tell me! She and Reg are fairly close I think.  But she really did welcome me with open arms.  Great isn’t it? I’ve felt a bit embarrassed about the shower of gifts, almost, that the Crowls have presented: particularly in the way of hospitality, and also in gifts of fruit and eggs, and cake, and now an alarm clock (my wee clock’s fine, except for the alarm), so this time I gave Mavis a small box of chocs – I’d wanted to get some flowers which she loves but since it’s been so wet, the flower sellers weren't around.  And I’ve been invited out again next weekend!  They’re marvellous, aren’t they?  I thought the home relatives were a good lot, but these are wonderful too.  Reg reckons he’s learning more about London all the time – I’ve been to several places he hasn't!  Mad, isn’t it? 

At the moment on the radio there’s an interview with a woman who’s a divorcee, and a widow, discussing her problems of being on her own – it’s very emotional.  She keeps breathing very heavily.  It’s quite surprising what they’re discussing.  Mike

[In spite of Winnie’s warm welcome and encouragement, I don’t ever remember going there on my own. I may have gone once or twice more with Reg, but I don’t remember. As for her being a Cockney – well, she may have been born, like my father was supposed to have been, within the sound of Bow Bells – but there wasn’t a hint of Cockney in her speech, any more than there was in Reg and his family’s. My amazement at St Alban’s was no doubt due to its being one of the first ancient churches I visited. ]