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lundi 17 novembre 2003

It's staggering how long something heard just the once, perhaps twice, can remain stuck in your head. Months, years, even decades...
When I was a kid, at the age when we were first granted freedom of the day and the town with our bikes, there was a small group of us who frequently pedalled round to take tea with Mr and Mrs Tucker.
This gentle couple lived through the twilight of British India* and its hasty, brutal partition, then retired to the old country for their own last long years in a cottage set into a steep rise, like next-door neighbours to Bilbo Baggins in 'The Hobbit'.
They carefully rationed the biscuits, she made wonderful tea of several sorts and cakes as exceedingly good as in the old advertisements for Mr Kipling's, and I can't remember it being anything but sunny during the many hours I spent with them both.
Mr and Mrs Ernest Tucker -- they described themselves this way -- had a penchant for the company of young teenage boys which in our sadder, supposedly more prudent times would be widely and wrongly frowned on as unhealthy, even dangerous.
They had no children of their own and when asked about this explained that God had in his wisdom made it impossible, not for the lack of praying and devotion, but because He had decided that their many Blessings would be granted elsewhere.
Such matters were little discussed and even more rarely understood during those afternoons spent over puzzles or playing card games of endless variety, occasionally talking of the news in their paper, The Daily Telegraph, without any deep debate.
In the front parlour, overlooking a riotously orderly rockery of flowers, stood two baby grand pianos, facing in opposite directions, keyboard to tail, so that they could watch each other as they played.
Duets were a rare treat, for special occasions only, but Mr Tucker almost invariably saw in the evening with a little concert. And exceptionally, they let us stay for a light supper of scrambled eggs and toast.
Rushing from one rendez-vous to another this afternoon, the space between my iPodded ears was filled with Liszt's B minor Sonata, which I listened to twice and a half.
Now there's only one really "big tune" in this extensive, challenging work, though that tune and fragments of it return many times in many forms, including "upside-down".
But the instant I heard the first of its annunciatory chords ring majestic under the fingers of Claudio Arrau, in a (1969?) performance recorded with the paradoxically less well-known pieces I recently bought the CD for, I knew that the work was an old friend.
And it all surged back.

A remarkably gifted amateur, Mr Tucker thought it time to introduce me to Liszt more than 30 years ago, telling me that I had enjoyed more than enough Chopin for a month and it was time to move on.
Though I don't recall ever hearing it since, "one of the pinnacles of Romantic piano music" (Kenneth Hamilton, Cambridge UP) bound me in spell from beginning to hushed closing notes more than half an hour later. When clock time was restored.
How Mr Tucker could contemplate scaling such tumultuous heights or tackling even the more restful moments of a work I tonight see described as "some kind of Faustian struggle" (Max Harrison) beggars my imagination. But he did. Twice, in the same summer. God, I must have pleaded for the second performance.
And this really makes me marvel!

Banal reality or worn cliché it may be, but it's almost inconceivable that our brains can store away such music -- this among many thousands, perhaps even scores of thousands, of pieces heard in a lifetime, from something as short and astonishing as Webern's miniature experiments with sound and with silence (the Six Bagatelles, op. 9, -- Arditti Quartet, Montaigne, Amazon Fr.) to vast monuments like Mahler's 'Resurrection' Symphony (NYPO, Bernstein in 1963).
Oh, my father used to tell me about performances he still remembered ten or 15 years' later, but still it's strange and quite wonderful that just a couple of chords can open such a floodgate of memories.
Uncalled to mind for a quarter of a century, I now remember the scent of polish and steaming Earl Grey in porcelain in the Tuckers' piano room, the faded flowers on the worn settee and the live ones from the back garden, freshly cut every few days. Each vase stood on a delicate doily and had to be moved when the couple opened the gleaming lids of their pianos.

I'm not sure that such people exist any more, but maybe they do. After all, I was often astonished in India, never more so than when I was on a borrowed bike and ventured up into some verdant hills, to find myself summoned by a wizened elderly white woman from over her wicker gate near the churchyard in a little village which could easily have grown in the Home Counties.
There was no time in that place. Indian independence might never have been. And I had cycled carelessly, right across the lady's lawn. Probably gaping.
I could never manage him, never will.
But there's evidently a very great deal to Proust and that madeleine after all.
All this, from a fragment of a bar of Franz Liszt.
Today, I might wonder about their politics. If they had any. The "Torygraph" was simply an institution ... and the crossword. My grandfather preferred 'The Guardian', then still often known as the 'Manchester Guardian' (John Simkin's Spartacus site -- a remarkable home for history).
Nothing remotely controversial ever clouded time at the Tuckers, though the kid was well aware of an occasional melancholy, the many things unsaid.
Maybe I imagine it now. But I think they largely communicated with one another and the rest of us via the music they shared. And that was a gift for life.
... Dash it! That was her name -- I did know it! Madeleine Tucker. No kidding. Like it was yesterday.


If ever you haven't and want to read one novel about India in those stormy years, make it four, each approaching the same events from different facets and viewpoints.
I can't recommend 'The Jewel in the Crown' and the rest of Paul Scott's 'Raj Quartet' more highly than describing these books, brilliantly dramatized by the BBC in the 1970s, as an enterprise of genius.

9:45:28 PM  link   your views? []

I've begun to make a most interesting new acquaintance this morning, in the blogosphere.
Which means this entry will prove more discursive than planned.
First, two unrelated things:
Now that I'm writing a lot again, on and off 'blog, and reading much, a neat little programme from the Unsanity (Panther compatibility) people is worth mentioning to other Mac users, especially since it doesn't seem to be at VersionTracker.
I'd thought Silk unnecessary until now. However, when you're often working with the Mac, a "haxie" preference pane bringing smooth text rendering to Carbon applications (i.e. the remaining programmes still not "built for OS X" from the bottom up, but vital) and a host of choices regarding other font tweaks is just great.
At $10, or 9.04 euros before VAT, Silk is worth every cent.
And then there was this, just one of many good finds during a recent catch-up on the blogosphere:

"Ah, science! Ennobling. Fascinating. Deeply challenging. Also, dangerous, gross and mind-bogglingly boring. We at Popular Science are sometimes brought up short by the realization that there are aspects of science—entire jobs, even—that, when you strip away the imposing titles and advanced degrees, sound at best distasteful and at worst unbearable. Having chosen last month our second annual Brilliant 10—a group of dynamic researchers making remarkable discoveries—we turned to this pressing question: For the rest out there, just how bad can a science job get?
The answer: Really, really bad" (popsci article by William Speed Weed).

I was planning to write about naval matters, not just soap and sailors' mouths, and more about the Wildcat, but she's dashed all of my aspirations with one swift strike of a claw, just as I was rubbing her tummy.
It was 19th-century rule over the high seas that interested me after yesterday's lunchtime chit-chat touched on maritime nations. And psychology.
The someone who has the two on the same page is Sydney Smith, a family physician who "uses a pseudonym to avoid offending the sensibilites of any of her patients who may accidently find the website".
First off, Sydney on Saturday took "the kids to see Master and Commander (official 'Far Side of the World' site; Flash) this afternoon. They loved it. So did I."
(The Wildcat might as well be on the far side of the world this morning. After what she said.)
Sydney reviews this leader on my can-scarcely-wait-for list at Blogcritics. For me, any film that brings together Russell Crowe, director Peter Weir and a good British naval yarn is an absolute must, even before the critics get anywhere near it. But in France, we can't see it until December 31.

Then Sydney gave us 'The Prayer of the Cat' (Medpundit's her 'blog, and has been added to the roll. Update 22:22: will be added. The means are down for maintenance following a "malicious hack", 'Blogrolling' news. Bon courage, Jason!).
Sailing ships, cats and poetry. Too much, already!

Where I met the doctor was at BC.
Anybody who submits an article with the front-page teaser, "How one psychiatrist got caught up in the dance of crazy love," is bound with such a juicy invite to attract my instant and total attention.
Sydney wrote a gripping tale called 'Amour Fou' (Blogcritics), in the guise of a review of an intriguing read, 'The Siren's Dance: my Marriage to a Borderline' (Roedale Press, September 2003).
On the strength of this wide-ranging and well-linked review, which I'd strongly urge anyone with the remotest interest in such things, I have put Anthony Walker's book -- another medical pseudonym, by the way -- on my Amazon wishlist. One day, I'll tell you where that list is, particularly since most people expecting Chrissie pressies from me this year will have to start one of their own, if they haven't already.

Variegated tulipI'm not saying for a moment that the Wildcat is either a Siren or Scarlett O'Hara.
She's certainly not Glenn Close in 'Fatal Attraction'.
But it's remotely conceivable that she might be as "borderline" as I am, which is one of the innumerable points in her favour.
Her existence on the edge was never clearer than last night, just for instance, when she read me a fine piece she had written about ... well, the trouble with what the Wildcat writes is that she won't let me publish any of it, even to prove that I'm not making it up about her being clever, perceptive and original as well as beautiful.
This isn't fair.
Nevertheless, it is abundantly obvious that the only possible flower of the day has to be a tulip. Again. Like the one on my desktop, a veritable icon for her. And preferably variegated, like this one I stole from an Albany festival of tulips.
That's what she deserves: a floral fiesta, fireworks and all. Well, what she would have deserved if she'd not been so perfectly savage and horrible.
Even if she has put a temporary halt to my collecting of pictures of the kind of wild cat she may be for submission to her judgement, by informing me that she's no more or less than a "domestic cat, grey and white."
This I find both laughable and unbelievable.
'Cos I got this letter yesterday.
And what S. said was that she wished my "fiancée" and me "great serenity full of love".
This made the Wildcat laugh.
That was grossly unfair and unkind.
She said that S., who has suddenly taken to addressing me as "Nickie Mouse" (which I can only put down to my phenomenal computer skills), and who described the Wildcat as "heroic" for letting me into her life, was making mock of me!
She's just taking the Mickey, the Wildcat opined.

How dare she? How could she?
I simply hate it when people make fun of my deepest and most serious endeavours.
Thus, I'm going to take myself off for an early lunch, if I can eat anything. I have ordered it, but I bet it won't stay down. Like something else won't stay down when the Wildcat murmurs unmentionables into my ear...
Then I keep a medical appointment. Then I have to go to the Factory.
And I shall find other ways to occupy my time.
I won't even whisper to the Wildcat for a week. At least!! I didn't sleep a wink all night, so deflated was the thing she wrote about, which I'm not permitted to share with you.

1:18:46 PM  link   your views? []

Tony thinks I'm cleverer than I am.
Particularly with search engines:

"Subject: Malarkey
From: Tony
To: Nick Barrett

Simply becos somebody's decided I can't know what Prince Charles is accused of, I MUST know - I spent time & money getting hold of 'Spycatcher' & 'The Satanic Verses' & rotten reads they both were; this should be easier. Do U know or know where to look? (...) Cheers, Tony"
The man later told me he thinks it's all something banal, like buggering a valet, "which was a tradition among the Hanovers..." (that the chap isn't a Hanover is beside the point).
I understand that bonnie Charlie Boy has stolen the Crown Jewels, had them replaced with perfect fakes, and stashed them away in Switzerland as insurance against settling on the French Riviera when the Royal Family finally ex- or implodes.
All attempts to discover which of us is right or whether the Prince of Wales did something more striking were initially in vain.
A story supposedly in the Hindustan Times is now a 404 no-longer-exists page.
'Le Monde' had to destroy heaven knows how many hundred copies of an edition meant for distribution to exiled readers in England. I did not see the issue here.
Even the 'News Quiz' on Radio 4 couldn't enlighten me.

But Tony, David Marsden knows.
His place, Asticles, informs us:

"This is the first and only English-language website willing to risk the wrath of House of Windsor 100% Cashmere Sweaters and Shiny Leather & Accessories PLC, by publishing ALL the salacious, bawdy, erotic, smutty, pornographic, raunchy, shameless bedroom, bathroom, shower-head, maidenhead and bidet allegations about Prince Charles and his 'squeezed toothpaste tube' servant slave that U.K. and U.S. papers are too wimpish to print!
There is one slight catch however. There always is..." (read more on David's Fresh Asticles Full Details page).
Malcolm Drury knows.
And he informs us:
"In an attempt to deflect further attention from himself following recent allegations that are totally false in an unspecified way, Prince Charles has changed his name to * and copyrighted the term "Prince Charles©", DeadBrain has learned (read on).
Both these admirable gentlemen have since publication been taken out by Military Intelligence agents and replaced with Corgies which have been taught to maintain websites.
And I am going to the Canteen for lunch, because Sam is promising another [Sunday] special. Having now disclosed this to MI too, I'll have my mobile 'phone with me at all times and will keep you alerted of my every movement, including those of the bowels.
My iPod has meanwhile been fitted with a powerful transmission device which can emit very high-frequency discords in a range beyond human hearing but capable of killing any small dogs instantly on sight at the press of a button.


*Why, oh why, this item refused point-blank to appear yesterday, when published with a perfectly good number -- entry #347 (now deleted) -- and visible via the archives is utterly beyond me.
MI evidently work in mysterious ways and lack any sense of humour.
Disclaimer: honest 'guv, I
adore the heir to the throne and wouldn't hear a bad word said about him. Even if I could ... and especially his nose.

11:36:38 AM  link   your views? []

nick b. 2007 do share, don't steal, please credit
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