Saturday, September 26, 2015

25.4.69 Flatting and fudge

Dear Mum, sorry it’s so long since you had a letter, tho' at least last time I did write rather more than a few lines! Just been re-reading your letter about the newly-weds. (What’s the married name?) [I have no idea which newly-weds these would have been; presumably a cousin of mine marrying someone. Nor do I know who it was that ‘descended’ on my mother.] I am sorry to hear that you’ve once again been descended upon by one of my obviously bludging generation ˗ sorry, two ˗ and it always seems to happen to your holiday, too. The only thing I can hope about, and the fact that Mary comes and goes so often, is that it lessens any loneliness you may be experiencing. [I think the 'Mary' referred to here was probably also a cousin.] Though why you should I can’t imagine ˗ I’ve had all this place to myself since Easter (!) and now find that since Julie has come back that I quite got to like having the place to myself. Purely selfish, I am, and yet I like having other people around too. I know, tho’, even tho’ you say that it spoilt your holiday, that you do enjoy cooking for other people ˗ and that it’s probably good that they’re there because means that you’re definitely eating properly. I’m only sorry to hear that it doesn’t sound as tho’ they paid you very much towards it. We are a selfish generation I know, and yet I always seem to wind up being sympathetic towards my fellow youngsters. We’re very spoilt, that’s the trouble. 

The cover of Talbot's 1986
recording, The Golden Tenor. 
You’ll be interested to know that I’ve just shown around the place (the flat) a new occupant ˗ making four of us here, and bringing the rent per person down by over a pound. Not that it seemed to be making much difference to me at the price it was, but it seems silly to have so much room and to be spending money unnecessarily. It’s a Welsh (!) tenor (!) of 24, who is going to be at the Centre for the coming term, and who happened to mention that he needed a place to stay, just as I was thinking that a fourth person would come in handy. I had talked to John about it and one night this week when he was here, we shifted the beds around in our room, just to see how much space there was, and really, you could hold a dance in there now! What also sparked off the idea was that Mike had said they a divan in the cellar of their flats, and that it would only get damp down there. So it’s arriving tomorrow, and Jeffrey (Talbot) arrives on Monday. To me he seems a nice guy, coming from a similar family situation as me, and tho’ he’s a typical tenor, he’s also down-to-earth as well. I think it’ll work out all right, since none of us is ever here that much anyway!

John and I are going out tomorrow to see if we can’t get some cheap furniture (2nd-hand) as the flat, tho’ furnished, has large bare patches, and the living room looks more like an Ideal Home exhibition stand than a living room. We’ve decided how much we can spend and with a bit of luck, may pick up something worthwhile. Or several somethings.

I’ve been sticking up, with double-sided sellotape, cut-out pictures from magazines, and tho’ that sounds revolting, it’s much better than bare white walls. Actually, apart from the fact that they’re a little crooked ˗ some are ˗ they don’t look bad. But I stuck one lot up so crookedly, I had to stick the others up around it crookedly to compensate! (I can hear you screaming from here.)

Have I told you what I thought I might do at the end of term? Don’t recall doing so, but the last letter was too long to remember all I said. I’m thinking of say getting a part time job ˗ preferably musical of course ˗ there was a job as a Music Librarian in this week’s Stage (the trade paper) which would have suited nicely if I hadn’t been studying. It was part time. And with this I’d like to spend about 6 months at least catching up on repertoire ˗ I don’t feel satisfied with what I know at present ˗ and do whatever coaching comes my way, with anything else in that line. Actually, on Wednesday, I again went to ElthamAdult Education and am getting £5- 12 for coaching amateurs for about two hours! The boss-man said that there was a possibility of more work there ˗ and if it could be relatively constant, that would be very nice. The normal rep is away, at Glyndebourne, and that will be for a while. (Spring must be here ˗ it’s eight o’clock and still light ˗ and fairly mild.)

I got your latest parcel a couple of days ago, with the biscuits and cheese and meat and fudge. Dear mother ˗ you put the fudge in a box in a plastic bag, remember? Well, guess what happened? The fudge returned to its natural state, and was a lovely solid squelchy block! It was terribly funny. I left it out in the air (no, not right outside!) for a day or so (including in the sunlight from the window, which didn’t help) and it’s starting to harden up again. I’ve had one or two irresistable pices, and I think it’s coming right. Hazel has demanded that I take some to her ˗ she’s had NZ fudge before apparently! (Funny, the Canadians and Americans and Hazel all go for the same kind of things as the NZs: milkshakes, hot-dogs...fudge! The English don’t know how to make these things, tho’ they pretend. Oh yes, hamburgers too.)

We’ve already had a very busy first week ˗ we’ve had one of the Ring Cycle ˗ Wagner ˗ in our first Reps’ class, which hasn’t been as bad as it might have been, and we have Rosenkavalier coming up in May. Man, that’ll be hard work! I’m still one of the two Reps with nothing special to do (Alistair and David are doing work outside) and so I’ve got lots to do. Might as well be busy!

Lots of love, Mike.

Friday, September 11, 2015

St Francis Xavier School Photo

While sorting through old family history papers and such, I came across this photo of my entire school at St Francis Xavier's.  The year would have been 1951 or '52I don't think I was in the lowest class in the school by the look of it, but I may be wrong.  I can identify some of the children in it - the Parish Priest's name escapes me, though it may be Father Bennett - but the rest of the names have long gone.  Perhaps there are some people out there who recognise the ones I don't.  And I remember more of the boys than the girls, by a long shot, though it has to be said that the boys only stayed at the school until the end of Standard Two. They then went onto Christian Brothers High School, starting there when they were still basically Primary School pupils.  

As always, you can click on the photo to enlarge it still further. 

In the second back row, the girl fourth from the right is Marie O'Malley.  Next to her (working left) is one of the Parsons family girls.  The next girl is unfamiliar, but the sixth from the right is Noeline French.  Starting from the left, in the same row, the fourth from the end is Lorraine Shrimpton.

In the row in front of that are some of the girls who were in my class, I think.   The third from the left is Diane ?  The two either side of the priest are Patricia Chandler and Barbara.  Otherwise...blank!

In the same row as the priest, the second and third boys from the left are Russell Bryant and Ian McCombe, both good friends of mine at this school. The next boy, I think, is Michael Parsons, who was the youngest in his family and the only boy after several girls. I can't remember the next boy's name, but then we have Gerard Sutherland and Melvin Shrimpton. The third boy on the other side of the priest is Michael King, who lived close by and with whom I still had a good deal to do after we left this school: he became an electrician (he'd always had an interest in electrical things), and at one point we tried to make movies together, with a small movie camera his family owned that took films only three minutes long. He had a wonderful basement to his house, in which was set up a working train set.

Next to Michael is one of the Harrison boys - I think it must be Anthony rather than John.  Then there's Rory O'Malley, then a boy I don't remember, and then another Michael...if I remember rightly.  Michael was the world's most popular name around this time - in Catholic circles.

14.4.69 Four letters in this is *very* long

[The next four airletters were all sent together as parts I- IV. They were apparently all written consecutively on the 14th April.]

Dear Mum, it’s taken me nearly ten minutes just to go this far and I don’t seem to be having much success. [The airletter starts off typed, reverts to handwritten, then four lines later reverts to typed.] I was trying to be clever and use the office machine that is at present in the common room (instead of the C.R. machine which chews up the paper!) but I can’t seem to get it to work for me somehow. [The airletter was apparently abandoned till the next day, when it was continued at home on my own typewriter.]

Well, it’s the next day, and I’m doing this standing up waiting for my breakfast to cook. Well, we’ve had a hectic and very lively but also very enjoyable time since I last wrote to you. I don’t mean at the flat of course ˗ I’ve seen John about twice in the last 10 days, and Julie less. I quite honestly don’t know whether John still lives here or not! He said he was coming back on Sat and I got some meat for Sunday dinner and tea, and he still hasn’t arrived and I ate the lot! I don’t know if he has a job or what ˗ but as long as he pays the rent I don’t suppose it really matters whether he lives here or not.

Anyway, on the day I last wrote we were just beginning the most wonderful spell of hot weather. We had 3 days of it before it became overcast again tho it did remain hot. Everybody has suddenly dispensed with all the paraphernalia of winter: coats, hats, scarves, gloves and so on, and looks alive again. Since the last weekend however the skies have returned to their habitual grey, and umbrellas have been much in evidence, altho a lot of people seem to have thought that (like myself) once you have thrown off your winter coats it’s a shame to have to put them on again and so we haven’t bothered. In spite of the rain and wind it seems to be staying mild so there may be hope yet.

To recap on the week’s events, anyway. On Tuesday I had arranged to go out to David and Teresa Jennings’ place: she was doing an audition in the Stuyvesant semi-finalist (four prizes of scholarships to the Opera Centre next year) and I was to go and do some coaching. [The only reference I can find to David is here; it’s a very common name, of course. Teresa was actress Patricia Hayes’ daughter but I don’t know what happened to her subsequently. Both were at the LOC.] This was the first of the really brilliant days, and I was sitting on our back patio when Teresa came to pick me up. I wasn’t prepared for the weather however and was still garbed in warm winter woollies! The Jennings were both wandering round in bare essentials at their home. A French au pair girl and another who works down the road were also in their garden, dressed as I was: in the past season’s apparel. The Jennings house is just one of many semi-detached in South-East London, but it is terrifyingly lived in, inside. The furniture and props [I don’t know if I meant theatre props] cover so much space that you have to wend your way through all sorts of articles to get anywhere. Rather fascinating, however. And on the walls they have photographs and prints of a variety of ages and these turn out to be Jennings’ respective ancestors dating back to the 17th century. I must go to Somerset House one of these days and track down some of my relatives.

Photo courtesy of Roger Perriss,
After I’d done the coaching which went quite well (although she said she didn’t sing too well the next Battersea Park. She was working at Earls Court and the Park is only a short bus ride across one of the bridges. The park itself is a great expanse of land, in which a smaller area is devoted to the fun fair. Well! I’ve never had such a nerve-wracking night. I think if we’d gone alone we would neither of us have gone on anything, but we were both setting out to save face by showing that we weren’t scared of anything and consequently went on every one of the monstrosities in sight. NEVER AGAIN! We started off on the Ferris Wheel which is much like F.W.s anywhere in the world ˗ only unpleasant when you slowly go! Next we went on a machine in which you were alternatively thrown at the side of the roundabout and then at the middle. This wasn’t too bad, except that the centrifugal (you’ll hear a lot about him before I’m finished!) force put all of Hazel’s weight onto me and nearly squashed my shoulder. (Hazel isn’t really a light young lass, and I haven’t put on any weight!)
day at the audition ˗ but, thankfully, neither did a lot of the others; glad it wasn’t my coaching!) I went to Earls Court and met Hazel, who had suggested the previous night (after running into one of the many fairs that crowd London at Easter) that we go to

I don’t remember which of the next two we went on, but both were singularly unpleasant. One had you in a bucket seat with your friend, and as well as going round at some considerable speed, young blokes riding the central merry-go-round pushed your personal bucket round at an operative moment which sent you going round at a speed rather faster than sound I think. My neck nearly broke in that one! Funnily enough Hazel liked that one ˗ heaven knows why! She even wanted to go back on it!! [Some people don’t learn: a few years later my wife, Celia, and I went to Battersea and got into a similar machine: we both came off it feeling so dizzy that we walked drunkenly for quite some distance.]

The other revolting machine, also Hazel’s suggestion, was a circular disc, called, inappropriately to my mind, the Satellite, in which you were sat in one of a number of small joined seats, and then this thing went round and then tilted! By some curious coincidence I again had Hazel on top of me, all the way, and this put my shoulder out of joint completely I think! Actually, once I got accustomed to the sheer torture of it, it was not too bad. We were both getting brave by this time and decided to go in a thing called the Dive Bomber. From the ground, and a distance, it looked as though you were completely encased in a little elongated egg-shaped vehicle that did a flip in mid-air so that you never went upside down.


After we’d paid our money we suddenly saw that the thing had only a partial top of caging, and some of it was open to the air. It seemed ominous when they strapped you into the cage, and bolted the door shut. It was when we were in mid-air that we found that at a certain given stage of your trip you weren’t actually upside-down, but that you looked at the earth from a vertical position ˗ it was like being suspended in mid-air by nothing more than a piece of leather strap. First we only did one flip to get us up top while they strapped in two more unfortunates, and this sitting in mid-air discussing the future was the worst part. Or so we thought ˗ when we started to go round in a seemingly quite uncontrollable way, We then knew that the beginning was quite pleasant! I hadn’t shut my eyes up until then on anything, but I did during that trip, and would have screamed aloud if I’d thought it would do me any good. Thank God, nothing in this world lasts, and even that nightmare came to an end, and Hazel and I went off and had a couple of sherries each!! We were quite cheerful ˗ we’re both the sort to laugh rather quickly about things like that, but we both shook for about a half-hour afterwards. I feel sick at the thought of it now.

Anyway, we’d saved the Big Dipper up until the end, and strangely enough this turned out to be quite mild in comparison. I wouldn’t have minded going on it again in fact, but Hazel didn’t seem too keen! The worst thing about it isn’t the sudden descent downhill after a slow climb (if you’re brought up on cable cars, this sort of thing shouldn’t bother you) but when on one descent you suddenly go into pitch blackness it’s amazing how it puts the wind up you. [The Maryhill Cable Car in Dunedin began its trip by suddenly dropping over the edge a fairly steep hill; you could slide off the wooden seat if you were little.] I think the most horrible kind of torture would be to throw someone into sheer darkness without his being aware of what was in the darkness. (The ghost trains at fun fairs spoil themselves by having too much [of the ride] in too much light. ) After that we went home!

On Wednesday I went into the Centre as arranged to do some work with one of the blokes who is doing a 20-minute program for some contest (I think I’m accompanying him) later this month, and also to run over the music that was to be done that night at a Policeman’s concert with Peter Lyon and Mary Masterton (she’s from NZ). It was another hot muggy day, and none of the singers at the Stuyvesant were feeling very happy ˗ one poor guy even fainted. Anyway I went up to Peter’s for tea. Peter is one of the few London-born people in London, and talks 19 to the 12, in a sort of overbearing way. Basically I reckon he’s a nice guy, but he’s got a curious chip on his shoulder that puts other people’s backs up with regularity. I discovered at his home that his father is exactly like him ˗ very tactless ˗ and I think the best thing Peter could do is to go and live in a flat somewhere. His father talks to him man to man, but somehow contrives to show to others the he (dad) is the boss and knows all....! Anyway, they gave me steak for tea, so I can’t really complain. And Somerset cream on a very nice apple pie. I’m glad to see some Londoners have taste buds. [Just when you think I’ve managed to overcome my know-what-other-people-should-say-and-do attitude, I manage to undercut it again, and it gets worse.] (If you could smell the stink of the stale and nasty hot dogs they sell all over Central London, especially Piccadilly Circus, in little open-air stands, you’d know what I mean.)

The concert went off reasonably well, although it was such a variety concert that we didn’t seem to fit in somehow. Peter had to follow Jack Warner (74! ˗ the Dixon of Dock Green man, and also a long-time entertainer), and a pop-group. Still, they paid us on the spot, which is a change, and a fiver too for something like half-an-hour’s work.

The next day was Hazel’s birthday, and she, David Gorringe, and I had planned to do something interesting to celebrate it. Originally we were going to picnic in Epping Forest, but decided on Hampstead Heath instead ˗ although the weather had decided to change as well that day. I had to meet David at Charing Cross, but he didn’t get my card about it until Thursday morning, and missed the fast train by one minute ˗ he was home in Ashford, Kent. (Incidentally I live in Kent too, altho we’re also part of Greater London.) So David sent a message up over the wire to Charing Cross to say he’d be late, and even his casual comments somehow went the distance too. They told me at C.C. that it was suggested I go off and have a drink somewhere! [I don’t remember what form of communication this was, but it sounds intriguing.] Actually I went to a cartoon theatre next door to the station, and saw the same cartoon as I’d already hated at another cinema, and two very old, but absolutely marvellous Tom and J’s, and half of a Batman episode! Then I picked Dave up, and after a detour to his flat we went on to the Heath to meet Hazel and Kathy, one of here friends. I don’t know what people think of my friends ˗ altho they always seem to get on with them ˗ but Hazel seems to have the most curious lot of mates. Kathy is very vague, and I’ll introduce you to some more later.

Well, we picnicked on the Heath beside one of the ponds and had a lovely lunch of healthy foods: Russian salad, cold (or is it cole slaw), apples, brown bread, lumps of cheese, coffee, tomatoes, etc. [Plainly I was unfamiliar with coleslaw at this point.] Then we just played around (except Kathy, who wandered) like 3 kids ˗ ran, skipped, capered, found an old ball with a hole in it in a pond which provided a good deal of amusement because it had a life of its own, and chased and played with other people’s dogs. Sounds madly irresponsible, doesn’t it, but while we 3 can enjoy ourselves thoroughly, we wouldn’t hurt or annoy others ˗ even if we might surprise them. [I think most Londoners were, and still are, beyond surprise at what other people get up to.]


Photo courtesy of Getty Images
Where was I? I had to go out and get another airletter to finish! Oh, yes. Kathy had to go early so as we were walking her back to the station we met another Opera C student, (Alison?) and she invited us up to her flat for some tea. So up we went and had a nice rest and coffee, and biscuits, and finally left. We still had some time to fill in so thought we’d go somewhere else and finished up, after some discussion, in tubing to St Paul’s, where we wandered around for some time before we went up into the dome. We should have gone up earlier because it was shutting as we were half way up. Anyway, we whispered in the Whispering Gallery while somebody tuned the organ downstairs, and discovered just what a fabulous building it is. (Although fairly obviously Wren had been to St Peter’s the week before!) The detail in the place is as usual astonishing ˗ but we forget I suppose that detail like this takes years to accumulate in a massive building, and it’s silly to say that modern buildings of a similar nature are too plain etc.

Anyway, we did have time to go up outside the roof, though not so high as we might, and the view is really rather fab. Although London is spoilt by having too many four-square buildings. You really notice from that height.

Anyway, after this Hazel went off in a taxi, while David and I wandered a bit more before we went back to his flat to collect my present for H. I got her a kettle! She just didn’t have one ˗ always bought something else instead, she said - and a card with ‘Don’t be discombobulated ˗ bless the day you was created.' And then we went our way to her flat, where she, and I think Kathy, had prepared a marvellous spread of biscuits with Russian salad, cole slaw, etc!! No, it wasn’t quite that bad; I don’t really know what was on half the crackers. At the party were Lorna Brindley and her boyfriend, Jim ˗ she’s a mezzo,he a tenor, and both should go far. Lorna, and I think, Jim, is Scottish, and has a marvellous down-to-earth approach to life, and a great sense of humour. [Lorna's 'Scottishness' seems incorrect, according to the link.]

Mike [Tither] came, and 3 of Hazel’s friends: Derek and Fran, married: he sat in the corner and played records that no one listened to all night, and Fran, though she started out being with the crowd eventually receded into the background. The third ‘friend’ (I suspect Hazel labels everyone she knows as a friend!) was Graeme, an Aussie, a writer, and who is thoroughly bored with all those around him. Seems to me he has problems ˗ especially if he’s a writer! The party went into the two groups: these 3 and the rest. Jim left early in the evening, after arranging to see me for some coaching on Monday, [handwritten] and the rest of this is being in a train so it may be a bit obscure! Well, after we polished off supper and had drunk quite a bit of wine ˗ I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t get drunk ˗ I either fall asleep, ie, get so tired I don’t want anymore, or else get happy to the point that I don’t want anymore. There seems to be an inbuilt mechanism that helps me to keep control. Not that I’ve tried to get drunk, nor been at a party where it’s been routine to overdrink so perhaps I’m being presumptuous. Anyway, Lorna, Hazel and I (David had gone back to Ashford and Mike was talking) decided, just for a change, and to get some air, to go for a walk, and liven up the first pub we came to. Well, the pub was incapable of being livened up and they looked a bit askance at us that anyone should think of going out and enjoying themselves. (Pub-going, in the suburbs, is a ritual, not a pleasure, or a night out.)

Anyway, after we played the jukebox, it was nearly closing time. There was an absurd barmaid in this place ˗ she was about 40, and remarkably plain (and seemed to think plain, too, if you follow) but she had a pink bow tied onto a bun!! Aagh! [Hard to know why this impressed itself on my brain, but who knows the vagaries of a young man’s mind.]

We went back to the party where things were still meandering along, and by this time I’d been invited to stay the night again (Lorna was [staying] anyway) and since we three were feeling tired, and the others apparently were not, we were in a bit of a spot. We were, however, in such a cheerful condition that we set about removing all the furniture from the living room as a hint that the people should go. We didn’t have enough courage to shift the chair that Fran was sitting on, and anyway our plan didn’t seem to get through to these


folk. No doubt their thinking isn’t, or wasn’t, quite as illogical as ours. Finally after much yawning and general carrying-on, they left, and I settled down very quickly on that revolting camp stretcher, tho once again I was too tired to care.

Next morning Jim came round and cooked breakfast! He’s an ex-chef apparently, and made a great mixed dish of sausages, fried bread, toast, fried eggs and something else ˗ was it tomatoes? I was still feeling energetic enough to have already done all the party dishes before he arrived, and all his dishes after breakfast. So I felt that perhaps I wasn’t entirely useless around the place.

Meanwhile I wanted to get seats for Megs Jenkins and LindsayCampbell for Saturday night’s performance of Fledermaus, and so had to go into the Centre. Hazel, during some part of the Schicchi season, had left her valuable papers in the safe at the Centre, including her cheque-book, and asked me to pick it up for her. So later, I met her in Charing Cross station, in the midst of a crowd waiting for delayed trains, at rush hour (!) ˗ C.C. is the smallest station, fortunately ˗ and we then went and had a meal at one of the 1000 Italian restaurants round London, and went to the NFT to see an old (1936) Hitchcock called Sabotage. A very curious and slightly sick film. The next day I went out to Holland Park to do some coaching with Marjorie McMichael [also] ˗ an ex-Opera Centre girl, and got 30/- for my trouble. I’m going there again now, though I shouldn’t imagine that I’ll be there as long this time as before. After my previous time, Marjorie and I went and had a meal at an Indian restaurant; the first time I’d ever done so. I had something called Malay Meat which consisted of meat (lumps of beef I think cooked with pineapple and other odds and ends, and served with an enormous plate of rice, some of which I had to leave. [I don’t remember this meal, but I do remember one at another Indian restaurant ˗ near Hampton Court, I think ˗ when I must have ordered a meal that was very spicy, and thought I was going to die.]

On Sat night I took my slip to the Wells to collect tickets and they informed me that they didn’t give out complementaries on Saturdays. I was rather upset because it meant telling Megs and Lindsay that they couldn’t go, but they took it reasonably well. Mike and I went to a set of eight plays on the subject of marriage (after missing the first one because we had to wait longer than expected in a Pizza Bar ˗ the pizza was nice all the same). The actors (4 of them) were generally rather better than the plays. [I think this would have been ‘Mixed Doubles’.]

On Sunday Kevin and I went to an Italian film about Oedipus Rex, which was very good. Filmed in Morocco with lovely photography all harsh with the vibrant colours; and the acting and direction was on a vibrant level too, which left you a bit worn out. [I think this was the Pasolini version made in 1967.] Yesterday I went into the Centre and coached, working with Moira Paterson in the morning on a group of songs she’s doing for Scottish BBC. It’s amazing how much different a song becomes when you get the singers, by suggestion and assistance, to open their eyes to its possibilities. One song that seemed very dull became very exciting and it pleases me as much as them when they get it working properly. Last night Mike, Mickey (a girl friend of his) and I went to Tosca ˗ a Zefferelli production. It was fabulous and tremendously exciting.

Love Mike.