I am now unemployed. My last day of work was August 17th. Rather than sit about burping I have managed, somehow, to be busy. I’ve done a gig, two days of filming in London, moved into a new room at home, spent a week at the Dartington Summer School, witnessed multiple tantrums from a 4-year old in Totnes and broken my phone.
Moving into a new room doesn’t sound particularly strenuous, but it did involve some unsettling experiences. I had to look under my bed for one thing. There I found a long-lost, nightmarish, world; a jungle of spider webs, mouldy socks, an unfinished cup of tea from February and an invoice for £77.83. Something bit me as I thrust an arm through this horrible debris to grab my bicycle pump.
It also took an astonishingly long time to move, especially as I got distracted very easily. My new room is up a flight of stairs and I decided to move all my stuff up on August 21st, just as Stuart Broad began to slice through the Australian first innings. This was such exciting cricket that I had to stop and listen to it and, having moved a metronome, my wooden giraffe and some slippers, I gave up and went to watch the cricket in the pub.
It is September 1st now, and most of the junk has finally moved upstairs. I’ve tried to order it nicely, but am perturbed by the presence of a ‘Tuffers’ Ashes’ DVD next to a Chet Baker CD. Where on earth am I going to put my coconut? Should my collection of Empire magazines be sorted in a chronological order? Sigh…this is harder than work.
In between moving, I spent an intense, but mightily enjoyable week with the Trinity Chamber Choir in Dartington for the Summer School. Set in the grounds of a beautiful Tudor Estate, the Summer School holds masterclasses, concerts and workshops every summer. The place is filled with musicians young and old, singer and instrumentalist, professional and amateur, sane and severely loopy. The grounds of the estate are wonderful. If you walk through the gardens you will find stone steps leading to woodland, lawns, fountains, Japanese gardens and a Henry Moore sculpture.
Staying in the slightly dilapidated ‘Foxhole’ accommodation (student rooms next to a cricket field) I walked past fields of corn and through the gardens every morning for Main Choir rehearsal at 9.15. Then it was two further two-hour sessions; one for the Trinity Chamber Choir rehearsal (a group of singers from Trinity College, London plus me and other ringers) and a conducting workshop (with the Trinity choir as guinea pigs). It was exhausting but immensely satisfying and when finished, with a pint of beer and some Burts crisps (the finest), I would sink into a deckchair and look over the Devon countryside.
One of the great things about Dartington is that it is full of slightly mad musicians lugging around instruments, singing on the lawns and bitching about conductors. At one point, a stereotypical brass player joined our group. He unzipped a small rucksack and pulled out several bottles of beer and wine and case of cigars. He became known as ‘Booze Bag’ and when not parping out notes from his trombone, was seen swaying in and around the pub or a party, before declaring in a voice entirely devoid of consonants that he had to walk home (several miles away). Somehow he managed it every night without serious injury.
Other characters included ‘Old Father Time’, an ancient, tiny, bearded, hunched-back man who shuffled around wearing sport shirts. One day he was Ryan Giggs at Manchester United, the next he was Simone, but I’ve never seen a figure less likely to be able to run, let alone be a sportsman. A large, mad Dutch woman fished out coins from the fountain to pay for her coffee. My favourite character was a white-haired gentleman who ran the music shop, where he sold music scores, books and Imperial Leather soap.
One morning, as my great friend O-J and I were climbing the hill on the way to choir, he drove past in a large people-carrier. Seeing us he stopped and wound the window down. He offered us a lift in the most fantastic way, by asking; ‘are you content to walk?’ We climbed into the back where there were no seats and sitting cross-legged, clung onto the sides as he nearly crashed into an oncoming vehicle. Eventually, as he neared the car park, he stalled. ‘We appear to have stalled; might as well get out here’.
Whilst telling the other singers about this little adventure, it became clear that ‘are you content to walk’ would become a catchphrase of the week. Indeed, the slightly ‘old duffers’ voice we used, morphed into a character called ‘Brian’ and we spoke in this voice almost non-stop for the final few days. It is slightly intimidating being around a group of singers whom you do not know, but I think most of them embraced the idea of me talking as a doddery old man and I met some good friends.
It was a fantastic week. One evening I went to a cello recital followed by Japanese ghost stories. The concert I did with the Trinity Chamber Choir was great, and included an ace piece by Richard Rodney Bennett that had a solo octet where the first sopranos and tenors sang top Cs with fruity harmony below. It felt very weird to leave behind, as though saying goodbye to an unusual, but highly delightful world.
Without wishing to scare anyone, I plan to write long and tediously about how much I love September and Autumn. I don’t, however, love it when September rains all over the cricket. Stupid time (sorry Autumn).