Stan To Miss Clark, alto, violist, Nordic blonde

Click to follow
The Independent Online
I HAD been in London again, depressed by the new savagery which seems to have increased every time I land there. The manners of the people deteriorate apace. Perhaps my presence provokes it. I explain that I am Irish and that it is our custom here to be polite before we stick the knife in one another. This used to be the case in England also.

Back in Dalkey, the infestation of joggers intensifies. They pant by below me, hyperventilating and inhaling as they go, the gaseous by-product of canine defecations. Do they not know that this is destructive of brain cells, and probably carcinogenic? Perhaps they have none to lose. Their presence is offensive, as my late colleague, Flann O'Brien, might have pointed out, to at least three of the senses. Not even a pretty woman is an attractive sight, sweating, barking and encased in plastic. I should certainly not embrace one until she had had a bath.

No matter. My latest counter-blast to them is the symphonies of William Boyce (1711-79). The Fifth, with trumpets and drums, is particularly effective. This music was taught to me by my most excellent mentor, Elmer Iseler, who allowed me to play the fiddle in a couple of his orchestras a long time ago. His skill in the interpretation of baroque music led Igor Stravinsky to appoint him his choirmaster, when in his dotage he returned to the human voice as his principal means of expression.

Elmer is one of the best conductors I have ever come across, behaving, as all the best must, as an absolute tyrant. At a rehearsal I recall his dismissing the concertmaster (leader) of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra to the last seat in the second fiddles for refusing to obey his bowing instructions, and replacing him in that grand function with the lowliest fiddler in the band.

My mother has just discovered a string quartet of mine, written about 1960, under Elmer's tutelage, and inquired if she might have it performed and recorded. I fear not. I was 16 when I wrote it, and no prodigy. It is dedicated to a Miss Diana Clark, one of Elmer's choristers, alto, violist and Nordic blonde. I contrived to sit beside her in class, and leave my textbooks at home so I could share hers. This is one of the reasons that my spoken French is distinctly ropey.

Elmer and I did not, in truth, get on very well, although we shared enthusiasms, one of them being pretty women. Still, he taught me a great deal. He would certainly endorse my harassment of joggers, as he had no more time for physical exertion than I, except of the stationary variety.

Miss Clark must by now be a most comely matron. I used to walk miles through the snow to meet her. I shall look her up next time I am in Toronto.

I HAD been complaining about the child below. Its mother brought it up to meet me. A rubber dummy was stuck in its mouth, presumably to discourage any of those demonic squawks of which it is capable. 'I thought you should meet her,' said she. 'Here is a peace offering.' This was a bottle of quite decent Australian plonk, my usual brand, as a matter of fact. A photograph of the little angel was attached by blue ribbon, with the caption, 'Dear Uncle Stan, Please don't be angry with me. I don't seem to be able to stay quiet even when I try.' Needless to say, I feel the most absolute heel. How am I to make it up to this blameless child? 'I don't mind how loud you play your Sibelius,' says the mother. 'I understand.' The floor opens up under me, or would if I were not standing on a large rock at the time.

My mother, incidentally, treasures a photograph of myself taken about the time I was the age of this child. It depicts me, equally blond and angelic, advancing on the cameraman, my grandfather, angelic features twisted up into a perfect snarl, brandishing a garden broom. The camera was destroyed in the process but the film saved. I can remember about the same time expressing my admiration for a young redhead by hitting her over the head with a hammer.

I guess none of us is perfect.

AT THE Chelsea Arts Club, where I stay when in London, fierce, boring debate is raging over the question of billiard tables. Two of them previously took up about 80 per cent of the bar. One has been removed, as an experiment, leaving about 50 per cent to those who wish merely to eat, drink, talk or listen to music. The snooker players are incensed and stick petitions in everyone's face. Ronan O'Rahilly did so to me. I said I would sign a petition to get rid of the remaining table. When I came back from the bar I spotted O'Rahilly neatly sinking his cue ball. 'That's another reason,' said I. 'I hate to see anything done badly.'

('Gentlemen,' my father told me, 'do not play snooker. They may play billiards, but only to oblige a host, but not otherwise.')

I dislike having bums and cues intruded into my face. I wish these people would pursue their proletarian pastime elsewhere. 'I wonder,' said I, 'if that table's ever been put to good use.' 'It has,' said one of the delectable females in my company. 'I did it on it on my 18th birthday.'