Thursday, December 31, 2015

Sept 1969 - filming for TV in Edinburgh

9.69 [Date torn off the aerogramme, but probably around the end of Sept, following the letter on the 23rd Sept.]

Dear Mum, just got your letter in which you mention your many history-making exploits. I hope while you’re concentrating on making history that you’re also concentrating on getting well. I don’t know if you will still be in there when you get this ˗ I’ll send it to the hospital anyway, and put a wee note on it where to send it if you’ve gone home by this time. Glad to hear however that as usual you’re enjoying yourself thoroughly, though I do think it’s about time they found someone else to pick on for their experiments ˗ they always seem to find you such an interesting case, don’t they? Wonder why you’ve been given so many little peculiarities? Glad to see also that everyone is looking after you so well; funny, isn’t it, how both you and I seem to be considered quite helpless and everyone seems to rush to help. I often have dear old ladies helping me to buy things in shops, and others seem to find a good old sounding board in me for all their troubles. I know more about complete strangers’ troubles than anybody else’s! It’s nice also that you’re in hospital in the Spring;  you’ll be able to see all the trees and flowers coming out into bloom from your own private window.

We’ve had our first touch of Winter today; I was staying overnight at Mike’s (it was his birthday yesterday, and he invited me around for a meal ˗ and very nice it was too, and we just spent a very quiet evening sounding like two under-under-graduates according to Lindsay!) and when I went last night it was quite pleasant and mild, and I only had a jacket on over my shirt. This morning however there was a distinct chill in the air ˗ even though the sun is still shining quite pleasantly, and it looks very pleasant as long as you’re indoors, but I was feeling a little like a slightly refrigerated person by the time I got home.

I don’t think I told you any more about Edinburgh, did it? (I’ve written to Hazel who is away at the moment, and I think it was her that I told the rest of the story to.) Anyway on Wednesday morning when we were supposed to work solidly for about three and a half hours we arrived and rehearsed (after about half an hour’s wait) with the cameras, and then went and sat about and then were made up and then sat about, and then filmed it quite casually in about ten minutes! And it was apparently so right (a piece of commentary had to be fitted over the last part of our performance and it was so well timed that it ended exactly as we did!) that we didn’t even have to do it again, which they’d expected to. I think they felt they wouldn’t get it right again if they did do it.

So we finished quite early in the day, and after we had a huge salad each in a place that Ande Anderson (the producer) knows, we went our separate ways, and I wandered off to see some more of the place that I hadn’t yet taken in. I wandered around the East end of the town, I think, and this brought me to Holyrood House [Palace] eventually, which I investigated. Unfortunately they didn’t really show very much of it to us ˗ only about one floor, out of three or four, and not all of that I suspect. Still it was interesting, though like many other things it no longer exists as it did when it was first built, and only parts of rooms are as old as the entire establishment. A ceiling here, a or a door here, or a staircase here. Still the room where Mary Queen of Scots was having dinner with a couple of friends the night her secretary Rizzio was murdered about two rooms away is there, and the spot where he was left dying ˗ though the little private dining room (about as big as our kitchen!) has a telephone in it these days! And the bed her husband slept in is still sitting in his room, made up, as though he were just away in England for the day.

There are lots of fascinating little curiosities, and even more that we couldn’t see, I think ˗ you seem to have to go around with one of the guides who only shows you what they think is necessary. Though they are fairly knowledgeable about the place, and conversation with them is rather more fascinating than actually listening to the talk, which leaves dozens of little details out.

The setting for the House (like that of the Castle, which had about the magnificent setting possible on top of a sheer rock) is fabulous. It’s at the other end of the Royal Mile ˗ walk straight up the road and you eventually come to the Castle gates ˗ and is sort of the end of the world; all at the back of it is a great roll of hills, with a huge scar down the side of the closest. I first saw the House from above, in the sort of park area (Calton Hill ˗ correct spelling incidentally) which is full of overpowering monuments to long forgotten leaders of the town, and up there you can really see the setting. Everything is heavily built in Edinburgh; one imagines it would take an atom bomb just to shake the foundations let alone knock it down.

Since I got back I’ve had to work all the four remaining days of the week; Thursday through to Sunday, morning noon and night. I was nearly up the wall at the end of it. Fortunately I’ve had two full days off to compensate. Still, as employers they’re fairly good, in that I only seem to need to ask for a certain time off and they say, Oh, I think that can be arranged!

Lots of love and keep progressing!

6.9.69 - more on the new job

6.9.69 [handwritten]

Dear Mum, just got your letter about Kevin’s visit. I had asked him if he’d go and see you ˗ but I was surprised that (a) he did so soon and (b) that he stayed so long. Did you think he’d changed much? I suppose the mere fact of the above shows that he has ˗ and  didn’t he dislike cats before?? I wonder if Fred actually remembered him ˗ they’ve certainly met before.

Though it’s only the late afternoon I’m working and have been since about 11.45 at the Cinema. One of the day cashiers is sick so I got an emergency call this morning ˗ just after I’d bought myself some steak for the next two days. I left a letter for David who arrives today to help himself to it if he wants but I doubt if he will.

We never all seem to be together in that flat ˗ today will be one of the few occasions so far, but tomorrow Angela goes on holiday back to her home so we’ll be back to four again ˗ or five rather; we’ve had a permanent guest ever since I’ve been back from Hastings. He does contribute to the upkeep so I suppose that’s something.

The job is going along and though it’s six hours a night, the time does pass fairly quickly. I’ve got to work through till 10.00 tonight ˗ time and a half for the day part of it ˗ but it’s still a hell of a long time. And possibly tomorrow as well.

The mixture of people there continues to fascinate me ˗ the doorman is from Trinidad, a European, but he has the native accent. There’s an Irish night ticket lady, and another cashier is Irish (with Maltese and Italian parents), another doorman grew up in NZ! What a place! I still don’t know whether I have a job after the 15th, but I’m not greatly concerning myself.

Last night (a night off) we got a call at the flat from Hazel to say that a man had approached her outsider her present flat, and had so upset her that she’d told him her flat number and all! She wanted some company in case he did arrive and caused any more trouble so Ian and I went over. The man never showed up ˗ he’d said he was a film actor! ˗ but Hazel gave us a meal to compensate for calling us over for nothing! She’s quite mad, but marvellously sweet. We had a very enjoyable and relaxing evening really, so it was rather pleasant after all.

Must go back to work ˗ and leave this Italian restaurant, where someone in the kitchen seems to have a bad case of grumps. There’s a great palaver going on out back.

Later. What nice people they are that work here! On Saturday I think it was one of the ticket collector girls went out and bought me a sandwich and ‘forgot’ to tell me how much it was, and tonight someone has gone into the baker’s behind the theatre and bought me a Danish pastry ˗ and won’t take anything ˗ what fatal fascination have I that people want to buy me food all the time!!

Have I told you I bought a (cheap) camera yesterday. Might at long last get some pictures of the sort of places I inhabit.  Love, Mike

4.9.69 - my new and not very salubrious career

4.9.69 (midnight)
Billy Graham preaching outside
the Compton in the early 60s
Dear Mum, I’d better write now, because I haven’t really the time during the day at the moment. I’m trying to organise myself fairly thoroughly, and so far things are going quite smoothly. I’m just home from work, of course; six hours of selling tickets to men who obviously haven’t much else to do with their time. This club as I think I told you shows pretty grotty films: what they call X films here (which is why the cinema is licensed as a club, and must function according to police regulations) and which they wouldn’t bother showing at home. [In NZ, I assume I meant.] Quite why men want to come and see them I don’t know ˗ for the same reasons that striptease clubs make a nice profit I guess. [As far as I knew at this time, pornography, in NZ, was barely visible, though it presumably existed in some form.] Old Compton St, where I work (it’s just off Wardour St, which is very famous as the English film industry’s street, as you no doubt know) has two or three strip clubs in it ˗ one practically opposite the cinema, and a variety of restaurants of greatly differing quality, a Cinerama theatre, several clothes stores ˗ the ones who can’t make Carnaby St, which is also not far from there ˗ and the usual number of pubs. (The Soho average is slightly higher than elsewhere in London, about three a street I should think!)
The Compton [Cinema]is nearly all underground; I’m in the only bit that isn’t, and I shouldn’t think it holds more than 200, if that. The people who come have to join first, at 15/- a head! ˗ then they pay 12/6 on top of that. No wonder they make money there. The film runs continuously from ten in the morning till (this week anyway) 11.47 at night. There are shorts, but the point is that the place never closes once it’s open. Only men can become members (!) but since they can take a ‘guest’ in, some of them take their wives or girlfriends in. God alone knows what they think of it! We had one man last night who wanted to take both his wife and his dog in. Tonight I had a Czech who spoke no English at all, and as little German as I do, so though he wasn’t keen on the idea, I finally let him in for £1-7-6 (he wanted to go in for 12/6, like some of the English people who can read the signs do), but it was only after innumerable gesticulations on my part that we got anywhere.
Compton Cinema in the late 60s
Lots of the men come in without their cards, and at present the filing system is in a complete state of chaos, so that it’s well nigh impossible to find anything. There is an old set of names with thin strips of cardboard stuck in metal plates that are detachable from their main stand and which should be on the wall but isn’t. The strips fall out whenever you try to find anything, and anyway they aren’t in order except that they’re under A or B or such. There’s a new card filing system which is in perfect order, but lots of the cards haven’t yet been filed, and there’s a list being typed (again not strictly alphabetically) into a book. This will soon be stopped, I think. Or at worst you can look in the daily records book where each name is entered against its membership number. This may only take a good half-hour, depending on whether the guy can remember when he came in before or not!
What amuses me about the place is that nobody, as far as I can make out, and I think I’ve met most of the staff at one time or another who work there, ever watches the films that are shown! Even the management. Mr Neilson, who as I said is not much than older than me, is going on holiday tomorrow, and Mike ? is taking over. He’s from Jersey, and is filling in time till he can get the right sort of union card to be able to work in the floor management side of TV. He’s done it before, but apparently can’t do it just now. Anyway, I may yet get another job out of it all. There’s a new cinema being opened in Tottenham Court Rd, on the same sort of system, so I may be lucky enough to get the same sort of job. It would suit me fine, because I’m starting to make some headway with what I’m doing in the daytime.
Remember how my foot was damaged? Well, it’s now getting to the repaired stage, and somewhere along the line, I’ve now been bitten (I think) on the other foot, and it all swelled up! I’ve put the Englishman’s favourite antiseptic on it (TCP) and I haven’t yet looked at it since I’ve been home.
The weather today suddenly went mad and shot back up to the 70s, just as we were all putting our winter wooly vests back on. Crazy. Monday was August Bank Holiday, though as usual it fell in September (!), and Hazel and Ian (who is an old friend of Hazel’s) and I went out in Ian’s car for the day. We didn’t go far, only to Epping Forest, where we walked (and picnicked, rather unsatisfactorily on biscuits and apples), and then when we finally found the car again, we went to Hampstead Heath, and had a look at the fair. Actually there were three fairs, but all of them were pretty dull. We went to see Some Like It Hot in Hampstead, at 4.00, [this would have been the second time I’d seen it] and then when we found all the restaurants we wanted to go to were closed we went to a singularly ‘caff’ type place in Soho, and then went to a pub next door to Hazel’s present abode (she’s rented out her own flat, as she leaves London for some time soon), then went to Hazel’s present abode and listened to The Rite of Spring! Very curious day, but also very relaxing. Ian and I got to know each other considerably better too. [Hazel was due to go off as stage manager in another part of the country.]
[Handwritten on the back] Next day. Other foot this morning seems to be calming down somewhat, and is back to its normal size. Call me YS029399C!! from now on. That’s the National Insurance. I wrote to the Post Office about Postmen’s work, and you should see the rigamarole of forms they sent back to fill in ! I was only asking ˗ you’d think they thought I was already joining!

P.S. And I’d have to take a test!! [I’d worked as a Postman in Dunedin, for a couple of months.]

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

26.8.69 - possibility of a job

Dear Mum, just got a letter from you and am very pleased to hear that all your insides are sorting themselves out. What a nuisance that you’ve got to go back in again; didn’t you tell them that you weren’t going to be treated like this? It’s not every day they get somebody with double kidneys or whatever the particular speciality you have is! (Plus being an unusually blooded person!) [My mother had a rather unusual blood type.]
I went to Mass on Friday at midday at St Pat's in Soho Square. Have I ever told you about that church? I keep finishing every letter and realising that I haven’t said what I intend. And yet at the same time I have the funny suspicion that I have mentioned it, and the church near Leicester Square ˗ the French one. Would you let me know if I have or haven’t as the case may be? Anyway, today I was in town again (see why below) and popped into the French church ˗ I think it’s called Our Lady of Lourdes or something like that. [Notre Dame de France,in fact, ie, Our Lady of France.] And the priest was just in the middle of the Offertory, so I thought I’d stay, you see. I couldn’t make out a minute or two later why no one was standing up for the bit before the Sanctus. I didn’t stand alone (being unlike my wealthy uncle John ˗ they must have been through more cars than clothes! That’s transgressing somewhat.) [No idea what this is about, nor who this particular uncle could have been.] and then suddenly realised that the bit he was saying was the end of the Mass! And here was I calculating if I would be able to go to Communion etc!
I stayed on a bit later trying to get what I should do about getting a job sorted out in my mind. Whether I should go back to the agency near Leicester Square (again) where they employ people for cinemas and such, or whether I should try another place that would probably give me an office job. (I’ve given up trying to get one from the paper, though there have been a few possibles, and the job that Reg suggested of working for the Post Office as a night telephonist is proving to be more trouble than its worth. They just don’t seem to want anyone even though they advertise continually, and when I saw the wages that they offer part-timers I can’t understand how they keep staff. Anyway my name’s down on the list. I thought that it would be a possibility but it’s taking so long to get anything out of them that I thought I’d be better to try something else out.)
There’s no doubt the Good Lord is a fast worker. I only need tell him I’m depressed while walking along the street because there are so many unfamiliar faces, and somebody will smile at me, or talk, or give me something to smile about. (I really must get a new ribbon for the typewriter.) Anyway I headed for this office agency, and then started thinking about perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad to try as a trainee projectionist as was suggested the other day. But it’s a full-time job ˗ however I thought the hours might have suited, so after sitting down with a sandwich and a cup of coffee, and thinking about it, I decided to go back to this cinema employment place. The lady then told me that I was wrong about the hours they work and I realised that they would be of no use at all. I told her again that I wanted the day-time free if poss, and she pipes up with a job as cashier (night one) from 5˗11, five nights a week and alternate Sundays (ye gods!). but the pay is £14 basic! Plus two guineas extra for the Sunday. What could be better? So I went round to this cinema to see about it, and though the actual manager wasn’t there, the relief manager seemed to think I would be quite satisfactory, so I’m to go back on Thursday and make sure. Isn’t that fantastic?
Now I come to the distaff side of the picture ˗ if that’s the expression I want. The cinema is in Soho (!) so consequently it shows mainly foreign X films, or home-made ones ˗ which means that to show them it’s got to be licensed as a club apparently, and the outfit as a whole may be a bit sleazy. When I say that I don’t mean the actual place as far as working goes, it’s just the thought behind it all that’s a little seedy. However it seems to me that it’s not likely to involve me personally in anything distasteful ˗ if it does we’ll just have to start looking for something else! Anyway it all seems to be convenient otherwise so I guess it was pretty well intended, so I think it should be all right. We’ll soon know if we get the job, won’t we? [Looking back on this I’m not sure if it was sheer naivety on my part, or whether I was trying to justify the possibility of this job to my mother. The cinema was a ‘club’ because it showed blue movies, as I later discovered, and should have realised early on. However, I spent the majority of my time in a caged-in box ˗ locked in to prevent people trying to get at the cash ˗ and when I wasn’t serving customers, which was often, I read lots of books, including, as I recall, a biography of Berlioz.I can laugh at it now, and talk about it freely, but for a long time I felt ashamed, afterwards, at having decided to take the job.]
My foot hurts when I walk without shoes on, but I can almost run again so  no doubt it is improving. 
Everyone’s going to the Little Sisters!, Love Mike. [The Little Sisters is a rest home for the elderly, and sick. I think this probably refers to two of my great-aunts going to live there.]

21.8.69 - Kevin leaves for NZ

21.8.69 [Typewritten again; must have connected with my portable typewriter again]
Dead Mum, I presume this is the day before you go back to out-patients, but like a ninny, I’ve just realised that this won’t get to you until after everything has been seen to, so there’s little use in my saying good luck, is there? Much better if I go to Mass tomorrow for you ˗ that’s a much quicker system than these letters! I hope anyway that the energetic life you’re going to lead isn’t going to be too strenuous ˗ just as well you don’t drink or we’d have you (by doctor’s orders, of course) out getting stoned (and probably stoney broke as well) merely in order to get rid of a very rude little stone that’s had the temerity to outstay his welcome! (UGH! sez mother.) You haven’t gone and dug over the potato patch, have you? No? Good ˗ just thought you might perhaps try to find a twin for the one you’ve already got. (Actually in spite of your injunction to treat this whole episode lightheartedly, don’t get the impression I’m not concerned about you, will you? As Reg says I am pretty placid ˗ I think it bothers him sometimes; when he gets more concerned about me than I do! ˗ but I’m not stoney-hearted, and though I don’t let it worry me too much (you and I know there’s only one Being around that really gets worried about these things ˗ we’ll leave the worrying to Him, in fact) I do remember you all the time in my prayers ˗ even more than usual, in fact ˗ so you should come through all right. What with the care of the best doctors you’ve ever seen and a little fifth dimensional care as well, you’ll be fine in no time!)
I’ll probably set about job-hunting today, though on the other hand I might give my foot a rest if poss. It hasn’t had much time to relax since I came back to London ˗ never knew I did quite so much walking. The big trouble probably was that because Kevin was to leave yesterday, on Tuesday I met him (and also eventually the two Tithers) and we spent the afternoon and evening doing little else but walking, it seemed. We actually went to a not over-funny piece of film called MonteCarlo or Bust in the afternoon, then met up with Mike in a pub somewhere. And finally when Kathy arrived (several hours later it must have been!) we went and had a rather nice meal in a place I rather like between Piccadilly and Trafalgar Square. (I’m slowly accumulating nice ˗ and reasonable ˗ eating places all over London; though I must start doing my own cooking too, soon.) And after that we went and had a few more drinks (we all remained delightfully sober!) and eventually wound up looking for one of those little cubicles where you can have your photo taken for 2/6 ˗ four photos, in fact. We squashed the four of us into the booth, and when the photos finally came out, they showed nearly always a huge Kathy face, a perpetually grinning Flaherty face, a Hitler-like Tither face and an almost non-existent Crowl face. Except in the last one (which was the one I kept) where I was in the process of pushing Kathy’s head a little further down in order to be seen ˗ and the camera has caught a huge hand apparently covering Kathy’s head entirely!
Kevin that night went back and stayed at Mike’s, and I went and caught the last tube home to Finsbury Park. Normally I would than catch a bus to Bethune Rd, but I’d missed the last of those and was about to do some more walking, when I discovered that I couldn’t make out which way to go from the road-map that was very conveniently placed for people going in every direction but mine. A taxi-driver stopped to deliver something on his way home, and I asked him if he could tell me the way to Manor Road. (The bus normally goes almost direct to this street, but the street is called three different things in its various parts, and I couldn’t recall the name of the one that it was to begin with.) He said he was going very near there and told me to jump in so I did and he took me within a couple of recognizable blocks of home! For free! The people round here generally seem to be just that much more friendly than those in the South or East of London. Which is rather nice.
I’m getting used to the flat again, and slowly accustoming myself to the Ascot gas water heater going off like a little Atomic bomb noise everytime I turn the water on. They are apparently not supposed to be installed in as small a place as a bathroom, but both this one and the one at the Syrus home are, and if they can have put up with this sort of explosion for so many years so can I, I dare say. There seems to be quite a collection of people coming and going as well ˗ apart from those who live here (I haven’t seen Ian since Monday, Kathy only once ˗ on Wednesday, I think! [Kathy Bird, not Tither]) ˗ in fact some of those I’ve seen here seem as much at home as I do. I think one of them sleeps here, but I’ve no idea where!! I knew it would quite likely seem a lot less crowded than one would think with five living here.
I meant to finish off the Kevin story. I met him at Mike’s yesterday morning to help him carry his bags to Victoria (and wound up returning with his umbrella, which he decided at the last minute would be too much of a nuisance) and he wasn’t feeling too happy and I wasn’t much better, though I tried, and he seemed quite miserable when he finally left. I had some time to fill in so I went into one of those continuously showing theatres where they had a mixture of cartoons and news etc. The last film was about giraffes, and if it hadn’t been for the fact that I was about to leave, I would have sat there silently bawling my eyes out! The men in this film wanted two giraffes for a Zoo and [handwritten] though they were obviously all good fellers the animals were just so philosophical about it all and just stood there taking it all in and pretending not to be homesick at all! [Not sure whether I was going to bawl my eyes out because Kevin was going back to New Zealand, for good, or because of the homesick animals! Maybe both: Kevin and I had been friends since the third form at High School.]
Mrs Syrus might be quite pleased to hear from you. She wrote to say how much she liked the flowers ˗ sounded a bit like one of your letters! 39 Newgate Rd, St Leonards-on-Sea.
Don’t seem to need Stoke Newington on the address, the N 16 is the important one.

I’m financially fine ˗ re Francisco. Love Mike. 

18.8.69 - Back to London

18.8.69 [handwritten] Back at Bethune Rd
Came home today to a bonanza of letters from you, and also Korea, and the Home Office (I’m now free to stay here, apparently for an unspecified length of time) and a long overdue postcard from Michael T in Rome ˗ I’d seen him back in London before I left! I’m very pleased to hear that you’re doing so well, and I was quite delighted with the slightly ‘droopy’ letter of the 12th! Sorry that you weren’t sure what to do with the mail ˗ I did get two letters (I think that was all) in Hastings, via the flat, but the others might have all arrived here after the date when I said not to send anymore on. It’s great that, as usual, you’re making so many friends and seeing all those others you haven’t seen for years. Have you had that race down the Ward yet? Or are you leaving such trivial things to those who are fairly new to this hospital business?
The flat here has started to look quite lived in ˗ I was quite glad not to have had to go through the transition period of getting everything into place once the others moved in.
My foot, I’m afraid, is misbehaving somewhat though it can hardly be expected not to be upset after what I did to it yesterday. As it was the last day, I went in twice (in the water, sorry) and almost ran on it. The result was, naturally, that I could barely walk on it when we finally got home and it’s been feeling fairly tired all day today.
Mrs S fell flat on her face going to work the other morning (she works three days a week in a typing office) and has a chin slowly going purple. She's really very sweet and we get on very well. I was quite sorry to leave this morning in fact, though I had thought, up till then, how nice it would be to get back to London again. I’ve been invited back again anytime ˗ which seems a fair enough criterion, doesn’t it? [More to the point it was extremely generous, since I doubt that I contributed anything to my board while I stayed there!]
If my foot clears up sufficiently to be able to walk comfortably before the end of the week I’ll try and get a job. I don’t know if I’ve already said I’m thinking of trying a job working front-of-house in some theatre ˗ that way I should have quite a bit of the day free to study in. It seems to be full of disadvantages ˗ there’s so much I won’t be able to see, but I can’t see any other way of working. If I get thoroughly fed up I’ll just have to try something else.

Keep getting well, Love, Mike. 

16.8.69 - travel and some foot damage

16.8.69 [handwritten]
Dear Mum, I’m presuming that you’ve written again since your last letter and I hope it contains good news about the ops. The thing is I’m not yet back in London ˗ will be next Monday ˗ and as I said to the others at the flat not to forward any mail after Wednesday, I’ve now made things a bit awkward because I can’t keep up with the news. I was invited to stay over yet a third weekend, rather than go back to London, and so I accepted. But I definitely must get back on Monday in order to see Kevin before he goes. I’ve decided I won’t go to Belgium with him ˗ basically because I’ve not yet heard from the Home Office; they still have my passport in fact, and as I have no way of knowing whether it will now be returned in time I don’t think it’s worth the fuss. [This, I think, was to get a certificate of patriality - now called a Certificate of Entitlement - so I could stay on in the UK, my father being English.] I wrote off and cancelled the tickets, so I hope everything sorts itself out there. Reg said he’d let me know if anything arrived from either the Home Office or the Bank of NZ (where the travel arrangements were being made) by phone, and last night he called to say that he’d received a letter from the Bank addressed to Mr Flaherty! Honestly the amount of time wasted over carelessness like this here is phenomenal. As I’d already written off to cancel the tickets I hope that all that will work out okay.
Harbour Arm, Hastings
courtesy gofishing,uk
The weather here is only today returning to its former glorious self ˗ we’ve had two days of very miserable, though mild weather ˗ and I’m sitting on the pebbles here watching the other two dry off. I didn’t go in because on Wednesday evening we met up with Paul again, and prior to going for a drink with him went out on the old rock Harbour Arm. Coming back off it I jumped down off one rock onto another, and either through being over-cautious, or else thinking that the distance was greater than it was I gave my whole left side a terrific jolt, right through my body. Fortunately the only apparent damage done was to my left foot, and though it seemed okay it got progressively stiffer and sore as the evening went on, so that finally I was in difficulty walking. It was a little less bad the next morning but I went to the doctor just the same. He only prodded around my toes and instep, taking the usual practitioner’s delight in finding the tender spots, and declared that possibly it was a little dislocated, but unlikely to be anything serious. Anyway, he was nice enough I suppose, but probably thought I was making a fuss about nothing. I was glad to have gone because at least it calmed any thoughts of its being something really nasty. It's today walkable on, but this causes it to ache rather much (up till now I’ve been limping around ˗ doubt that does it much good) but I guess it’s improving all right.
The sea looks strange here: it’s artificial somehow. Because the sky merges into it ˗ they’re both very grey at the horizon ˗ the end of [it] doesn’t seem far away and it looks as though the people are swimming in a gorgeously designed (and rather enormous) bath. And the waves are provided by some mechanical means. They’re far too gentle to belong to Mother Nature! Get well, love, Mike.

(P.S. I got Mrs S some flowers today ˗ they’ll arrive on Monday, I trust.)

Monday, December 28, 2015

9.8.69 - Still in Hastings

Dear Mum, Just a small growl that I should have put in before: what is the use of your getting $2 extra a week Sick Benefit if you turn round and give it to me? All right, so you’ve discovered that you can now get $2 Postal Notes, but that’s no excuse to give twice as much as usual to me! As it is I left you with quite a bit to pay for insurance and building society and TV (okay, so you took the latter two over ˗ that’s not the point) and yet you’re still showering money on me week by week. It’s very naughty. Sorry to start off like that and I hope this won’t arrive to spite me just on the day you have an operation or summat, but please do look after yourself. I don’t especially want you to wind up in the poor house. Let me know, when you feel like, how things are going for you, and I’ll keep doing the little I can here.
I’m still being well and truly looked after by Mrs Syrus (particularly) ˗ I haven’t had such a good lot of eating since I left home ˗ except perhaps at the Crowls at Christmas. And we get on fine. Mr Syrus talks to me like another son, and Mrs treats me like one. I’ve been invited to stay on for another week ˗ “if I want to”!! What an invitation.
We’ve been going on the beach at low tide the last couple of days ˗ this way you only get pebbles on the beach and not in the water ˗ although today we got nasty little cuts on our legs ˗ I stepped on a very sharp ledge of rock and came out of the water with blood dripping from half a dozen nicks and scratches!
We had another David-friend with us today: Michael Keenan ˗ a Catholic, would you believe ˗ a rather strange lad, very tall and thin, with a tiresomely quiet voice ˗ though he’s fairly pleasant if a little vague as a person. 
The Powys family
We went for a walk today amongst the Saturday morning shoppers ˗ one shop is selling psychedelically-coloured underpants ˗ I was tempted to buy a pair (I do need ‘em). We went into a bookshop (secondhand and new) and while in there, I noticed how many books this man (an Irishman with a beard, and short and tubby) had by people called Powys. I said I’d never heard of them and thought it strange he should stock so many. Apparently he’s an agent for them and sells them all over the world. So in the end I bought one for interest’s sake ˗ it seems he may be related anyway, the name outside the shop is Powys! There are four brothers and a sister-in-law, all authors, and at least one has made the Penguin Classics series, so they must be reasonably well-known.

So, keep being cheerful, and I’ll keep praying. Love, Mike.

12.8.69 - Back in Hastings

12.8.69 [handwritten]
Dear Mum, I’ll address this and the next few I write to the hospital, although there should be a couple lying at home for you if someone hasn’t already collected them. By this time I suppose you’ll have had either one or both of your ops, and will be well on the way to organising races up and down the Ward with anyone else who cares to take you on! There’s one thing I must sort out ˗ I meant to do it last time but forgot. I received a notice to pay my next lot of Francisco money recently and I have a Postal Note for £3 here to do it. What I want to say is that I hope you haven’t worried about it, because I really think it’s up to me to pay it, even though I’m still not earning anything especially. Just in case you’ve been the usual Good Samaritan that you always are and have paid it, I’ll put a note in to Mrs O’Flaherty saying that she should put the extra £3 onto the next quarter. Will you let me know so that I know how things stand?
Today it is raining, although it’s still very warm (temperatures have been in the 80s and upwards for over a week!) This is the first rain since I arrived here. David’s fourth friend did come to the beach on Sunday. His name is John and he’s about to do his final two years at a Theological College before becoming a Minister. He’s much the same age as all the other friends ˗ between twenty-two and twenty-three ˗ (it’s amazing what a variety of youths you can get at that age) ˗ and quite the liveliest of the four. He’s also the most popular with the Syrus parents (David reckons I come a close second!), but it seems that the other three boys I met don’t bother to try and communicate with an older generation.

We went in the sea four times that day, and stayed longer than usual because for the first time we had a ball to play with, and that kept us all playing around a lot more. John and I seemed to be the most energetic of the lot (!) ˗ we stayed in longer than the others on at least one occasion and were at the forefront of the various other activities that went on (like building a sandcastle (my second childhood this!) and playing a sort of catch-ball on the sands.) David’s father came in too (as he had at Camber) and thoroughly enjoyed himself. He’s much more cheery when he’s in the water (!) and laughs and clowns around pretty energetically. The previous night he and Mrs and David and I had stayed up discussing religiou till 2 am ˗ the parents are Methodists, and David leans towards Anglicanism. (He’s been to Church with me both Sundays. The discussion didn’t really gete anywhere ˗ except perhaps to clear up my own ideas. Mr S is pretty staunchly Methodist. Love, Mike. 

7/8.8.69 - Alistair's wedding

7/8.8.69 [handwritten]
Dear Mum. Well, well ˗ this is the third day I’ve said to myself I must write properly to you ˗ I only posted a postcard today that I wrote last Monday ˗ but because we’ve spent so much time doing all sorts of things I’ve not had a minute really to spare. The weather has been constantly fabulous and I look more like a Red Indian than a Paleface.
Alistair’s wedding went off very well ˗ the reception was held at Woking, about 20-30 miles from London, at the house of Imogen’s parents, a large country house place with a magnificent flat garden with carefully looked-after shrubs and bushes, and far enough from Woking proper for it to be peaceful. The day, which started out as overcast, became very hot and sultry and all the younger men dispensed with their coats very quickly. I wore my old suit, but helped it on its weary way with a fabulous tie I bought a while back. This seemed to make me acceptable amongst all the superbly dressed people. Imogen’s family seem to be pretty well-off, and so, many of the relations were dressed in considerable finery. There was champagne flowing in all directions, and everybody was in high spirits until the heat quietened them down. Alistair had a gorgeous waistcoat on (he must have been very hot) that Imogen had made out of some furnishing material; it was all gold and bright and green. Imogen was in a white mini-skirt with gold trimmings and with her hair in a sort of Regency fashion. Alistair had composed an Epithalamium (a wedding piece they tell me) for the day based on the usual wedding march, and full of musical quotations, which was written for available forces ˗ mainly his Nottingham University friends ˗ which included David Syrus on piano, [plus] oboe, clarinet, bassoon, basset horn (his father-in-law) and several strings.
The reception broke up about 3.30 and David and I headed back to London, where because we had such a long time to fill in we went and saw A Night at the Opera (at the Station Cinema) ˗ me for the fourth or fifth time! [I must be exaggerating about this; I don’t know how I would have seen it this often.] Then on to Hastings, which is a combination of a seaside resort (unpleasant), a hilly town (pleasant), lots of parks (delightful), an old town (very quaint), and a gorgeous surrounding countryside. The beach, unfortunately, is another one of those pebble ones, although we did go out to Camber yesterday where it is all sand.

Mr Syrus is a dear old shoe shop owner of sixty-six, and Mrs S is from Sheffield, in the North, originally, and very easy-going, a good cook, very motherly (and though it’s perhaps a little hard on Mavis ˗ an efficient housekeeper without being unnecessarily tidy). Peter, David’s younger brother ˗ he’s twenty ˗ is another student musician, rather more practical than David (and a bit lazier ˗ but all young people are!) and very easy to get on with. Last, there’s Scamp ˗ their eight-year-old cat. Love, Mike. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

8.8.69 - Holidaying in Hastings

8.8.69 [Handwritten, in Hastings]
You dear old thing! I just got your non-moany letter about the Rolling Stones. What are we going to do with you? You poor old soul. And you won’t even have me to come in and see you when you don’t feel like seeing anybody...! David [Syrus] says that you’ll be first on the transplant list for kidneys - trust you to be different! All this semi-jocularity does conceal some concern however, and I hope you won’t have any more problems once this lot is over. Anyway, I’m sure all my deputies will keep an eye on you. [I assume this was another reference to my mother having gallstones.]
I’m writing this on the beach actually, sitting on those ridiculous pebbles they have on most of the coasts here. I’m getting used to them, I guess, though I can’t run casually over them the way David does. At least this time I haven’t wound up with just blue bruises on the undersides of my feet. There’s a lovely golden labrador tearing about the beach here ˗ the pebbles don’t seem to worry her unduly! She seems to belong to a perpetually grinning boy of fourteen or so who’s sitting close by.
Over the last few days I’ve met two of David’s friends, one of whom, Paul, is going out to Australia, pretty definitely, some time about September, to teach. Probably in Canberra. I’ve never seen anyone with quite so jaunty a step, but he isn’t actually a very jaunty person. He apparently failed an important Varsity exam, and as a result would get a little more money in a teaching post here than the average teacher from a Training College who hasn’t gone to Varsity. [I think I mean he '\would have got more money.' if he hadn't failed.] Anyway, he’s been working on the buses in Hastings for the last year or so because he hasn’t been satisfied with what they’ve offered him in teaching. The other boy, Chris, has an artistic mother who does stain-glassed [corrected in the letter to ‘stained-glass] windows mainly, it seems. He has rather an inferiority complex because of her, though David says he’s a pretty good cellist, and seems very nervy.
We’ve just been in the sea, which is rather boisterous and pretty cold. There’s more wind around than usual today too. I haven’t been wearing my watch down to the beach since I’ve been here, though I must have done the first day we were out as the skin on the place where the watch and strap normally are is pink (but a deep pink) and not at all like the rest of my skin. It’s very tender too. I hope it will be all right, but I let it calm down a little yesterday, by wearing the watch again, and not letting the sun at it. In fact we didn’t go near the sea yesterday. I for one felt that I was burning to a cinder, and wanted to give myself a break from the overall suntanning I’d been having. We went for quite a long walk out of the north of the town, through fields and bush, and it was really fabulously relaxing. When we went to Camber, we had to go via Rye (the town where the notorious Dr Syn had his headquarters) and we had a look at it. (Hastings has a lot of old houses in its ‘old town’ part, but no cobbles.)
We played golf here the other evening ˗ on a revoltingly hilly course ˗ Pete [David’s brother] and I were 100, David 102. But the views during the game made it well worthwhile. Dave and I are wending our way through the Wagner Ring cycle (nineteen LPs!!) ˗ he got the Solti recording set cheap recently. There really is a lot of fabulous music in these works, and for all his faults, he certainly knew what he was about. When you consider these four operas were written over twenty-four years ˗ it’s amazing how well they hang together and to each other.
[ Postscript written along the edge of the opening paragraph - somewhat reminiscent of my father’s approach to making the most of all available space in a letter.]

I’ll keep on praying for you ˗ though I’m sure the Good Lord has you down on his special list already - love, Mike

Saturday, December 12, 2015

31.7.69 - New flat, end of year party, and movies

31.7.69 [First letter from 18 Bethune Rd, Stoke Newington.]
Dear Mum, sorry to have been such a long time in writing again, but things this week have been hectic. Even though the Opera Centre is officially finished, my ties to the place have not yet been severed and I’ve been in there every day this week ˗ but instead of my spending money because of my presence there I’ve actually been making a little, a pound a day in fact, for coaching Peter Lyon who goes to the Scottish Opera For All shortly to work.
Last Friday I not very cheerfully set out to start transporting all my stuff up to Bethune Rd and the one trip convinced me that turning myself into a pack-horse wasn’t the answer. (I did tell you we’ve got the place ˗ or did I? Perhaps not!) So after having frizzled up in the heatwave (or drought as they’ve called it!) on the way up here ˗ via two trains and a tube ˗ I decided this was not good enough and rang up Reg and explained my trouble and without any more ado got all the rest of the stuff moved on Sunday morning. And then I stayed overnight at their place until Tuesday night (from Sunday) because the flat has not really been completely habitable until now.
Saturday night was the last performance night and after the show most of the students, and other odd bods, went all the way down to Forest Hill, in the SE of London (though not far from Blackheath) for a party at the Jennings house. (David and his wife, Teresa Brooke, have both been students. Her mother is Patricia Hayes, the actress.) It was far and away the best party I’ve been to for a long time, and was only wound up sometime after I left ˗ at 4.00 in the morning. Alistair and his fiancee, Imogen, and David Syrus and his brother Peter came back to Blackheath for coffee, and watched the sunrise. As I had to get up for 10.30 to meet Reg, and wasn’t quite with my packing, and would have to go to Mass somewhere along the line, I decided to stay up, and went out onto the Heath when the others had gone, and walked in the dew, and watched the most fabulous of skies gradually grow lighter and brighter. There was a weird peace around, actually, with only the sea pigeons and large black crows (?) to disturb me. There were cars in the distance, but they don’t count somehow, and I only saw one other person out walking ˗ which isn’t really surprising! I thought I would have felt very sad somehow, but didn’t really seem to, just a little contemplative. I suppose the older you grow, the more you accept that everyone of your friends disappears sometime, and all of these eras in life come to and end. (It’s probably just as well ˗ being the way we are, finickity ˗ we’d probably get bored otherwise). Then I went back and had a bath, and and cleaned the windows and went to Mass (and nearly dropped off at it) but the five hours or so that seemed to be a short time for sleeping in took a lot longer to be awake through.
Anyway, for the next three nights I stayed up at the Crowls’ trying to cause as little disturbance as poss ˗ and seeing far too much TV: including Woman of the Year (with Tracy and Hepburn, one of their best ˗ with a fabulous where she tries to cook breakfast for him when she’s never been near a kitchen in her life) and the original Frankenstein with Boris Karloff, which was interesting rather than horrifying. And for some reason it was all updated to the thirties (or late twenties anyway) and had one of those revolting English actors playing the Baron [Frederick Kerr], and supposedly getting all the funny lines ˗ ugh, that’s one thing that has outdated itself. Karloff was very good incidentally, and makes the film I think, which is only otherwise notable for its direction of the not over-inspired script.
Yesterday, Mike and Hazel and I went to an early showing of Chimes at Midnight, an Orson Wells film adapted from the plays that Falstaff appears in which were collaged together to make a portrayal of him as the more important character rather than as a subsidiary to the King. There is no such thing as a bad Orson Welles film; even his failures are immensely interesting. [I couldn’t have known this from experience, not having seen most of his movies; it was plainly something I’d read.] And this has a superb cast putting Shakespeare across in a superb way.
We then went up to Mike’s for a meal, and then went to Piccadilly to see a late preview of one of Mike’s company’s new films. At 11.30. it was positively the most sick film I’ve seen, I think, but very well done for all that. It’s a terrifying exposé of the really seamy side of New York life, but with redeeming features in the characters in the story ˗ they seem victims of their country rather than themselves: it was made by an Englishman, and possibly couldn’t have been done by an American. It’s called Midnight Cowboy, and for once I’ve seen if before you possibly can ˗ but I don’t suggest that you see it. It only shows things that have existed in humanity for centuries, but isn’t in the least bit pleasant for the acknowledging of them.
The drought broke incidentally, on Tuesday ˗ the very day on which I had to go wandering around the streets ˗ it was so wet I got soaked to the skin even though I perpetually carried an umbrella. And now that that’s been and gone we’re back to the heat again. The English don’t deserve to have the lovely weather ˗ they only say they like cold better.

We’re to have a telephone in this flat ˗ presuming it won’t cost too much (it’s already here but disconnected) and I had a little Irishman here yesterday who had been about to take it away until I said we wanted it. And did he talk!! And I’ve had two grumpy little men coming and going with furniture and cookers and fridges that they can barely lift ˗ and I always seem to be doing something wrong for them. I’ll be glad to be settled in here. Love Mike. 

This isn't 18, but a house a couple of doors along:
there was a long row of houses all with the same design.
Ours was similar to the left-hand one: the window to the right of the door
was the bathroom (someone pinched my shaving gear off the windowsill once).
The bow window to the left was my bedroom. 

23.7.69 - the shortest letter

[Unusually, this is a short letter written on ordinary paper.]
Dear Mum, While I think of it, do send mail to reg for a bit, because things are still rather unsettled here, and I haven’t yet heard anymore about the other flat. I’m writing to you this way incidentally, because I wanted to send some stamps: Monica H. Asked me to send any ones of interest that I had for the kids. I thought I had some more, and some more interesting ones, but I don’t seem to have after all.
We’re been clearing up the flat this week but don’t really seem to be making much headway. It’s amazing the stuff that has accumulated. And this morning some more fudge arrived! I don’t know whether to try and finish it off before I go or not!
This is only going to be a short note I’m afraid, but I mainly wanted to get the address sorted out.
Marilyn wrote, and so I’ve replied immediately, telling her to write as much as she wants. I’ll try and keep up a fairly regular reply service. [This was seven months after I said ‘I must write’ to her.]

Better go, see ya, love Mike. 

15.7.69 Changing flats

Well, well, and hullo. (15th July). Hope you are still recovering properly like a good wee girl. I’ve had Fred’s alter ego in here twice just lately ˗ a cat that is growing up to look like Fred. At least as I remember her. (Do you know in this day and age of photos I don’t possess a single one of you! And I’ve got three of Francisco, whom I’ve never seen.[This was a Korean orphan boy I sponsored for a few years.] Send me one, will you? Even if you have to have it especially taken with all the rest of the Hannagan clan.) This cat is terribly cheeky and walks in whenever I have the back door open and food cooking. I was in the middle of a Sunday meal one weekend, and suddenly felt something rub across my leg ˗ only on this occasion the door wasn’t even open. What a fright. She’d come in an open window! But she’s very like Fred, and I enjoy her company.
Well, several things have happened of interest. To go backwards, today, Hazel and I received a summons to go and see Mr Kentish after one of the rehearsals. Well, remember that TV business that we had going on at the Centre a while back? And how I was shot sitting doing absolutely nothing? Well, they want the people who appeared in that scene to go to Edinburgh in September to shoot a scene up there as a follow-up and they pay! Everything. Great great great.
On Sunday night I went up to town and after going to Church in the evening at six at my little French church off Leicester Square (Mass in French ˗ and sermon!) (it’s a beautiful church actually built with the same sort of material as in Moran Chapel, but about six times as big, right next to a cinema currently showing a hit film on Lesbians.) [Moran Chapel is/was in the centre of Dunedin, in the Octagon: a tiny place that might hold twenty people.] (I’ll have to get a new ribbon.) (Hold on...) [I changed the fading ribbon to an equally faded red one; almost impossible to read.]
As I was saying, I met up with David and Hazel and Dave’s flatmate John, and a friend of Hazel’s called Kathy Bird. And it turned out that Kathy had found a flat which she wanted to move into but found that she wasn’t going to have enough people ˗ again someone had opted out at the last minute. I said that if David agreed (Syrus, that is ˗ the one I was to share a flat with) it might be suitable for us to come in on. It’s a place with room for five people and six if wanted. So anyway last night David and I went out to look at it (after David had said he liked the idea ˗ I’ll still be going down to Hastings though, I think; I don’t see any reason not to see a bit more of the place) and it’s massive ˗ five bedrooms, a large lounge, a kitchen, bathroom, and lots of funny little off rooms, that don’t seem to have any purpose in life, and a private garden which at the moment looks fabulous. It’s on the ground floor of an old three-storeyed house, and the place has so many doors ˗ most of the rooms have two (?) that it looks like the set of a French farce! It’s not actually ours yet, but Kathy and I are going in tomorrow to look at it, so I’ll not finish this until it’s definite and then if it is you can start addressing mail there. [A woman lived upstairs on her own, as I recall, which meant she must have had an enormous amount of space. As for most of the rooms having two doors; I think this is nonsense. Mine did, but not the rest, as I recall. ]
Tomorrow night I go to NZ House near Piccadilly to a reception being held by the High Commissioner for NZ for James Robertson and Kiri [te Kanawa] before they go to NZ for Carmen. [A recording of this production is available on You Tube, though for video there are only still shots.]
Last night before going to see the flat David and I had tea at Alistair’s house (which he’s renting prior to getting married); actually Dave lives there too at the moment; and very nice place it is. An old three-storey place too, semi-detached, which means that you go up and down all the time to get anywhere, and that it’s rather narrow, but it’s also very cosy and comfy. And the sort of place that anyone would be happy in let alone newlyweds.
I’ll leave the rest of this till tomorrow.
Tomorrow is now here and this morning we went up to the agents near Oxford Circus and filled out an application for the flat. Now they’ve got to send away for three references from each of us, which will take about a week. I only hope that if they do accept us they don’t take too long about it, because the date they seem to think we should go in is about three days after I’m supposed to have left here!
This evening I went up to NZ House (after spending the entire day mucking around doing nothing at all in London ˗ it has been so hot that it’s impossible to do anything; a real muggy sort of heat, which is killing the English. I sat in St James Park this arvo doing absolutely nothing except watching the people go by for about two hours ˗ even went to the all cartoon show to fill in time for an hour ˗ it was cooler, and anyway they had a Laurel and Hardy, as well as part twelve of one of those old serials.
[Seem to have missed something when I wrote this]...for this reception for Robertson and Kiri, and it was pretty deadly and I didn’t really meet anyone new.

Our production of Il Tabarro promises to be really something. James conducted it while I played for a rehearsal the other day, and didn’t even complain about my playing in any way. A change. But as a show it should be fabulous ˗ and will shock the audience for si..[? the ribbon must have eaten the rest of this word.] Ande Anderson, who is producing, is putting rather more into it than perhaps he would normally, because the situation rather parallels a marital situation he’s been involved in (he hasn’t said so, but it’s obvious from the knowledgeable way he speaks about the feelings of the characters involved.) [I suspect someone amongst the students suggested this and it became a reality.] I’ll be playing the celesta in the actual performances, which doesn’t mean much, as neither Schicchi nor Tabarro have much for the instrument. [Handwritten] That’s all for now. See ya, love Mike. 

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

11.7.69 Chelmsford, trains, shifting

Dear Mum, Great, great ˗ I’m glad to see you’re back on the road to recovery; though I must admit I didn’t expect anything else ˗ you’ve had so many nurses to look after you that you couldn’t help but get better. And I’ve had two more reports since I last wrote which has pleased me very much. All you have to do now is not work toooo hard and stop going out so much so late at nights ˗ I’m sure it’s all these late nights that’s caused the trouble! (Heh, heh, heh!) Give old Fred a special pat (all right, she’s already got one...!) for me and tell her she’s a marvellous wee soul to have around when you’re sick. It’s her constant attention that gives me the sneaking suspicion that perhaps cats aren’t quite the little snobs they pretend they are. Anyway, keep getting better. Please.
We had our concert last night, and generally speaking it was quite successful, though as I said last time I’d have loved to have been working on the stuff for a lot, lot longer. Anyway, Keith Kent, the conductor, seemed fairly pleased though I think he felt his choir let him down a little. At one place, it was partly my fault, I think, in the Polovtsian Dances, I went gaily on only to find that the chorus hadn’t sung anything when they should have come in with the biggest noise of the evening! They came in two bars late but with the stuff they should have sung two bars earlier. I spent so many bars wondering if perhaps I should stop and start the bit again that I forgot I could save the day by merely doubling back on myself by two bars, and fortunately did this just before we reached another change of speed, where it would have been disastrous if I’d gone into a new tempo while they were still in the old. [I presume this was one of the fast passages. Such jumping around eventually becomes ‘normal’ for experienced accompanists!] Actually another reason for my delay in acting was that I wasn’t sure exactly what bit they’d come in on, and it wasn’t till I heard some rather grating un-Polovtsian type chords that I guessed entirely what had happened. There were some other moments of adjustment too, but mainly because the choir, who haven’t been used to having Keith out front, don’t always watch, and consequently tend to lag behind somewhat. He’s been playing for rehearsals up until this week. (I think if I wanted it, there’d be a job there for me ˗ though apart from the fact that Chelmsford is about 40 miles from the centre of London [not twenty, as I wrote in the previous letter] ˗ the trains do it in just over half an hour though ˗ and perhaps I’ll get in touch with them again next term ˗ it may be worth my while. He seemed keen enough to have me back.)
Neil Jenkins
The tenor and soprano (hereafter called Neil Jenkins and Anne Collins) were supposed to arrive about 5 pm so that we could do some more rehearsal, but got caught up in the traffic jams caused by the signalmen’s strike which of course was affecting the very trains I had to get to Chelmsford!
On Wednesday, I got up there but couldn’t get back the same way, and one of the choir who lives near Upminster (which is the furthest point on the line that I used to get to Plaistow) gave me a lift down there and I got a tube to Charing Cross and just caught my Blackheath train with two minutes to spare. And last night I missed a train at Liverpool St and had to wait for another three-quarters of an hour till four, and then when that train left it got about ten minutes up the line and ran into a points failure and we sat there for nearly half an hour. I suspect actually it was more likely something to do with the strike, as other trains going in the same direction passed us every few minutes. And each night that I got into Chelmsford I finished up getting a taxi to the School Hall because the buses only run every half hour or less, and I just never saw one going my way! What a week.
Anyway last night I got a lift back to town with Neil and Anne in his car, and only then discovered just how far it was. It seems very roundabout by car, in spite of the motorways. Neil is the brother of Terry Jenkins who did Albert Herring in the first term, and has just been married ˗ four weeks ago. Anne is the ex-flatmate of Neil’s wife! Complicated, isn’t it? Neil seems to have led an interesting life career-wise ˗ he has somehow got himself connected with Menotti, and sings the role in The Consul of the magician Magadoff everywhere that Menotti does it now. He’s sung it in Israel (in Hebrew!) and in Spain - in Spanish. He now wants to sing it in English, but no one (except the Opera Centre) seems to be doing it! He thinks also that they’re going to Japan to do it soon. He’s also part of the present Deller Consort, which just at the beginning of the week made a full recording of Acis and Galatea, as it should be done.
After the concert last night we went and had a Chinese meal, one for three ˗ so that we had about five different dishes to mix together. And they showed me how to eat with chopsticks, which isn’t quite as difficult as I’d thought, but not really suited to the English way of eating; if you could hold your plate up to your mouth the way the Chinese do it would be much easier.
[Handwritten] When I leave the flat on the 28th (I have told you, haven’t I?) I think what I’ll do is this: go and stay with David Syrus in Hastings ˗ I’ve been invited by his parents ˗ David says they like having the house full ˗ but leave most of my stuff in London with Alistair (who has recently rented a house because he gets married in early August ˗ I’m going to the wedding). And then perhaps when Kevin goes to Belgium on his way home I’ll go too ˗ it only costs about £4 (!) and stay the couple of days that he’s there, as it’s the last time I’ll see him for a while probably. And then I’ll come back and look for a flat for David and self ˗ I’ve got several places in London where I can stay! So! That’s the present plan. I might get you to address letters to the Crowls after the 28th if they don’t mind.

Love, Mike

8.7.69 Rehearsals and payments

Dear Mum, I’ve only just received your letter telling me about when you were sick. Well, this is not good at all ˗ what does Fred [the cat] think she’s up to letting you get ill? I’ll have a word to say to her when I write! And what you are doing eating stones?? [I think my mother had a gallstone problem at this time.] It must be all this gardening you do. Anyway, I hope that by now you are getting better again, and haven’t gone back to work too soon. I’m very glad that all those marvellous brothers and sisters of yours were within calling distance. They really are great to have around in time of crisis. I’ve written a short letter to Monica, [Stokes] (it is 24 Argyll St, isn’t it?) and I’ll get you to thank everybody else, including Mr B, for looking after you for me. [Mr Bevan and his wife lived around the corner from my mother, and were very good friends.]
I’ve got the morning off this morning (we’re in the middle of production rehearsals so that I always have a little more time to myself) so I’m writing straight away, and I hope to be able to go Mass at 10.00 just to make sure you get better. (Believe it or not it’s only 9.40 now ˗ I do get up early sometimes.)
I went to the first rehearsal of this thing that I have to play for on Thursday night last night. And though I practised the stuff I had to play I didn’t feel very happy at all, and I don’t think the conductor did either. But between you and me, I found him a very difficult conductor to follow, and I’m very glad that there is another rehearsal on Wednesday, before the show. I felt so inadequate last night (when I arrived he was playing for them in great style, and bringing them in with his head ˗ though he does have the advantage of having had the music to work on since last Easter) that I began to get annoyed with my apparent uselessness (essessess), but I thought this is no good, Mike; pull your sox up and even if you aren’t as good as he is, do your best and make it worth their while paying you such a ridiculous fee. They’ve giving me seven guineas! [It seems more ridiculous now that anyone was still paying fees in guineas.] Which works out to about a pound an hour for the hours I work for them. Still I think it’s worth it, because of the amount of practice I have to do on the stuff to make them sound even remotely reasonable. I also went to another rehearsal with the two soloists on Saturday morning, and wasn’t very happy to find that the Mezzo didn’t know her work ˗ and they are supposed to be professionals. Anyway, it was quite a good rehearsal in spite of that, and I got two shocks from it: late in the time I was there they suddenly foisted a Britten Canticle for tenor, mezzo and piano on me which I had to sightread! (I knew it by ear a bit, fortunately, from the record.) [Probably: My beloved is mine (Canticle I) for soprano or tenor and piano (words Francis Quarles), 1947The second shock was that I did sightread it, and quite well ˗ I was beginning to wonder if I’d been suffering under a delusion all these years I could sightread! And they are intending to perform this piece at the concert too ˗ I think almost, that they should pay me another couple of guineas for the shock treatment!
The biggest bother with this sort of thing is that everything is done in a hurry ˗ and you don’t have time to absorb the music into your system before it has to be performed ˗ music really needs a good working out, and then a rest and then a rejuvenation treatment, and by that time it’s become part of you, and seems to lie under your fingers all that much easier, and to come from you the way it should instead of being forced. (I’m just off to Mass, I’ll finish this later.)
Back Again. To continue. I was under the impression that Chelmsford, the place where the concert and rehearsals are taking place, was somewhere in the North East of London, but I discovered last night that it was about 20 miles or more from Liverpool St, which in itself is about three quarters of an hour from Blackheath. I wondered why they offered to pay my expenses as well as the fee. Thank goodness I didn’t refuse.
They now tell me at the Centre too that I may have to go to Bristol at the end of the week to play the celeste in the orchestral rehearsals for Schicchi and Tabarro which are being held there. The reason for this is that the orchestra we are using this time is the Bristol BBC training orchestra. But I doubt if I’ll actually get there as there is nothing important for me to do on the celeste and to me it seems hardly worth the expense of getting me down there. But that sort of thing ˗ expense, I mean ˗ is what the Centre is rather absurd about. They spend money on all sorts of crazy things (like hiring an orchestra from a town over a 100 miles away when there are just as good here, and having to pay for their travel etc).
You know my large, large grey case? Well, it’ll shortly be on its way back to NZ. Kevin and I are swapping cases ˗ he needs a big one for stuff he is sending by sea, and I find that that case is too large to carry stuff around in, in London, so he’s giving me a smaller one. Because his only day off in the week is Thursday and because I can’t meet him this Thursday, I’m taking it up to Waterloo’s left luggage, and leaving it, and then sending the ticket down to him by post! Sounds like a couple of old-fashioned spies on the job, doesn’t it? Hope you don’t object to my giving presents away like that! I’m sure you won’t. Well, I’m nearly at the end of this aerogramme and I want nothing but GOOD reports from now on.

Lots and lots of love, Mike