17.2.69 This letter was written on both sides of two sheets of paper, and runs to some 2,500 words - good grief.
Dear Mum, I was all set to write a letter to you and discovered that I didn’t have an aerogram, so I thought I’d start anyway, and if I don’t finish this I’ll copy it onto an airletter tomorrow. Julie has been prancing round the house all happy tonight, because she got a Valentine Day card ˗ actually it came on Friday last, but she was away for the weekend, and didn’t come in again till tonight. She and I have just been having a long chat on things in general, and she’s been showing me snapshots of her family and her trips abroad, etc, and it’s generally been very interesting. We get on very well, all things considered ˗ we scarcely see each other except for the odd occasion like this ˗ and she’s rather nice kid really; kid ˗ she’ll be 21 in June. (John, whom I thought was about 26 is only getting on for 22 in March!) Julie’s mother looks only about thirty-something herself, and is still very attractive, I think. Heaven knows why these people want to leave home ˗ Julie only lives at Orpington, which comparatively speaking is just down the road, and John lives even less far away in Eltham (is it?). Seems to me they’d certainly be more comfortably off at home. I can see it up to a certain point, certainly if they don’t get on too well with their families it’s fair enough, (for both the parents and them) but otherwise it seems a bit strange. Julies seems to get on all right with hers, although there is some business about a stepfather somewhere, which may be the trouble. But with John, I don’t know what the reason is. I don’t mind flatting, but being either a typical male or just lazy, I’d much sooner have someone looking after me!! [It doesn’t seem to occur to me that the other two want their own space and don’t want to be beholden to their parents.]
By the way, please don’t growl at me in your next letter at what I’m about to tell you. ((((I’ve had another cold....I’m sorry...!)))) And I’ve just spent the weekend in bed, mainly, and also taken today off, because although I had recovered quite a lot, I didn’t really think it was worth while risking it to go back straight away. The big trouble was that when I got the cold ˗ very suddenly on Thursday ˗ right in the middle of a very hectic week, I couldn’t take Friday off because it was the final night of our master-classes. What a time for it to come. I spent all day Friday feeling absolutely rotten and fortunately it calmed down when it came time to play. But I think if I’d been able to stay home on Friday , I wouldn’t feel quite as under-par as I still do. Anyhow, I’m determined to knock it on the head, because I bought some Vitamin Tablets today, and started a three-week course of them, and hope that this will bring me back up to scratch. The trouble is I suppose that I can’t really eat too well ˗ just can’t afford to, and there’s nothing to be done about that side of it ˗ I haven’t had a steak since I’ve been here for instance, and though we can get meat at the Centre, it isn’t wonderful, and certainly isn’t very generously given out. I’ve been eating salads for the last week or more, because it seamed to me they were more healthy than the meals that we were getting otherwise but of course the only meat in them is ham. However, as much as I object to having to take pills like this I think it’s the only solution in the meantime, and of course I haven’t been up to the Crowls for nearly a month ˗ thru circumstances ˗ and this may have been a partial cause too. Anyway, though I sometimes think I am, I’m not starving, and probably eat more than my actual share of things. Never mind, I’m not dead yet, as I keep thinking I’m saying.
(John has just arrived home, and I doubt if the rest of this will be very comprehensible.) The flat is getting to be more comfortable as we fit up more of the place with odds and ends, and as it begins to look less bare. But the big problem of the place is that it’s very hard to get enough hot water for a wash in the bathroom let alone a bath! The water heater is very temperamental somehow ˗ it’s one of these gas things where whenever you turn on the tap the whole thing lights up off a pilot light; the other night it blew up in my face, and gave me quite a shock, but didn’t do me any damage. It blew the front off the thing in such a way that it now hangs on by only three corners, but seems to be working all right since then. But the water still doesn’t stay hot for very long - I don’t know what’s wrong with it ˗ I think we’ll have to get the Land Agent people on to it.
And as you already know we’ve had snow, snow and snow, and snow. Until it makes you sick. One night last week when we were rehearsing late it came down while we weren’t looking, and when we went out hit us all in the face. The way I get to the Opera Centre now when I don’t get a lift is to go via the Shadwell Tube Station, about seven minutes walk, via Commercial Road, and Watney Street (where the coldest open-air market in London is), and on this particular night I though that in spite of the snow, I’d save meself 5d and walk instead of getting a bus. Well, I arrived at the Tube Station, unable to see through my glasses, frozen right through, and looking like an abominable snowman. And of course all the trains were late. I was carrying more than usual, and I was thoroughly fed up.
One thing here, when it does snow is that they get on the job pretty quickly, and clear up the roads, and even the pavements in some places. This is very necessary, because it seems invariably to freeze up straight away. Either that or it turns to the most revolting slush, and makes it like walking on water. Anyway, so that is the snow for you. It’s still attractive to look at but by golly it’s cold, and very unpleasant to be out in. It sort of gets right inside your head, and these last few days I can feel the cold air right inside my sinuses. Even when I was in bed on Sat it was driving me mad, in spite of Aspros and everything, because I couldn’t get any relief when I breathed. It just ached, and finally my sinuses and my eyes and my gums all felt as though someone was driving nails through them. Nasty, that!
And yesterday, Sun, when I did get up for quite a long time, my nose suddenly poured blood in the good old way that hasn’t happened for a long time ˗ when I sneezed. But at least it seems to have relieved a few things .
May as well go on a bit [this was by now the third page of a typewritten letter] and include some things about the master classes. Incidentally, thanks once again for the postal notes, and the cuttings. I don’t keep many of the latter ˗ they make interestingly reading, but of course there is little point in keeping them all as you no doubt realise. It’s now the next day, by the way, and if I finish this it’ll be lucky. I’ve had another nose-bleed ˗ it came on in the middle of the Italian class, and I had to go out [because] it poured so much. But then, as I had to go into the West End to see if I could get myself an Italian-English Dictionary and a German-English Dictionary ˗ both very useful of course, but they both cost money of course. Honestly it gets my goat, and no doubt other students’ goats, too, when visiting lecturers and our own tutors rant on about how we should have a copy of such and such, and so and so ˗ and to my eyes at least if we have barely enough money to feed ourselves up to the point where we don’g flag from a semi-malnutrition how on earth are we supposed to buy all these books etc? (This is not a hint, just a general moan for poor old students ˗ even those on grants are limited in scope.) [I don’t mention that I obviously spent a good deal on going to the theatre and the movies here; though certainly I did feed myself fairly sparsely at times.]
It’s the same with the work we’re supposed to ˗ especially the reps: we’re at everyone’s beck and call, we’re supposed to be able to learn up new music constantly and really know it, and we’re also supposed to read up on every subject to do with the theatre and music under the sun. No human being can do it in the space of the ordinary average English day!
Anyway, I’ve strayed completely from what I started on. I got the German dictionary by the way, but not the other. Anyway as I was walking through St James park to get to the Victoria library to return a book, my nose started to bleed again, and has barely stopped since!! I’m now at home, and in desperation froze the whole area around my nose with a cold flannel ˗ this stopped it for long enough to go out and have a precarious meal (I’d originally intended having one in town) with odd drips coming my way, but then the thing is still running even now, and nothing on earth seems to be able to stop it. It’s calm at the moment but feels as though it’s just about to strike again. [The story of my life: nosebleeds were commonplace in spite of cauterization; and my mother used to get them regularly too.]
Got your letter this morning about your telling me in reply to grumbly to letter to buck up, cause you were keeping an eye on me in your prayers. Actually I’ve been feeling quite cheerful ˗ even during periods of the cold and the great bleed, but I also notice that I bit all my nails down to the bone yesterday, and that my lips are sore from being chewed. At least I’ve got not SPOTS!! AAAAAgh! I’m falling apart I think, but as long as I get to the end of this year, and can start earning, perhaps, a little dough, I’ll be right. Who’d be a student.
I love the mental side of the life, but honestly ˗ practically speaking it’s for the birds! Thanks for being so un-upset about the flatting situation ˗ re Julie, I mean ˗ I knew you would understand, being of that sort of person, but I haven’t told Reg and Co that she’s here ˗ she’s John to them at the mo’! I don’t know how broadminded he is about something like this. I leave it as being another boy at the moment I think ˗ I think I shock them enough, unintentionally, at the best of times!
About seeing someone to tell me what they really think about me ˗ this seems an impossibility at the Centre ˗ certainly amongst the teaching staff. They’re all too mixed up in their own little politics to really be properly concerned about all their students ˗ certain obvious excellent ones, yes ˗ but those they aren’t too sure of ˗ they just leave them alone!
I was talking this over with one of the girls last week ˗ Abigail Ryan (a dooley [Catholic], not surprisingly ˗ there are getting to be more every day), and we seemed to conclude between us that you’ve just got to go ahead an push yourself onwards, because no one else, over here at least, is really interested in helping you. I’ll still surviving in spite of setbacks, and can only think that I’m as good as I know I am and hope that’s good enough for others. As a coach, I seem to have certain qualities: I spend most of my time being Father Confessor to my ‘pupils’, and as a rep, I seem to have the knack of making it all exciting time and time again without much flagging, and I even survived my session as a conductor in the Master Classes without much bother. I enjoyed it actually though I still have no pretensions that I am a conductor. I know how I like a thing to go and am fairly definite about getting it that way, but I think there is still something lacking on that side, and anyway, I see no reason to do something like that when I don’t greatly care for it. On that side the highest I would really like to go [would] be a chorus master, but that would be a long way away, yet, with my present capabilities.
James Robertson thought some of the speeds in the Cosi chunk I did were a little slow, and unexciting, but at that stage I was happier concentrating on getting things rather more accurate than exciting. (This was the last rehearsal ˗ at the performance I let go a bit more, but apparently it was still a little slow.)
The piano playing, while not madly accurate, in whole sections of Jenufa (which is tremendously exciting music, by the way ˗ all Czech) though I got the basic chords right which is the essential thing, and think it was rather exciting, and certainly the audience tension was very obviously there. Funny how you can feel it ˗ an audience can feel it itself too, if it comes to that. In the Tchaikovsky, The Queen of Spades, again very exciting stuff, the cause and the results were much the same. Michael Hadjimishev, from the Sofia State Opera, was a fantastic man to work with. He had the characters so thoroughly understood by the time we were finished (at least the reps, and some of the singers understood, some of the others can’t be told anything) that we could [see] exactly why everything was so in the score. On interpretations he is fabulous. Not an innovator, I shouldn’t think, but well worth meeting to really understand what characterization is all about. (The man doing our present reps class, Mauritz Sillem, has done nothing but recitatives in our present session on The Marriage of Figaro ˗ both as spoken dialogue and ordinary recit, and we’ve also read the original play on which it is based. It has been fascinating ˗ singers don’t think enough about the dramatic side of things. The other Master Class, on TV Opera, was also fascinating. They did it on the night with dummy cameras and you could actually visualize the whole thing. They used the whole auditorium floor and with these great spaces and hints of scenery you could really get the feel of it. Love, Mike