Saturday, 12 April 2008

School misery 1955-1960

In 1955, having passed the infamous 11+ exam’ (still known to older folks as the “Scholarship”), I was enrolled in Fairfield Grammar School.

(In England at that time, “Grammar Schools” were what Americans would know as “High Schools”. They were schools designed to prepare “brighter“ pupils for University, whereas “Secondary Schools were for those who would work in the trades, or in industry).

So began five of the most miserable years of my life. I learned to hate F.G.S., and I was a miserable student.

In “elementary” schools (Infant and Junior schools in England), I had shone. I was good at arithmetic, reading, writing - the 3 R’s. So it was no surprise that I passed the 11+ exam.

Mum and Dad had hoped for a high pass so that I might attend the elitist “Bristol Grammar School”, or the well thought of “Cotham Grammar School” (for boys only).

But that did not happen. Instead I was assigned to Fairfield. A good consolation prize, and much better in our minds than the local “St. George’s Grammar School”, or the across the City, “Merrywood Grammar School”, or the newer “Ashton Park School”

Fairfield was 2.9 miles from my home. Had it been 1/10th of a mile farther I would have qualified for a free ‘bus ride. As it was I had to use “shanks pony” , or the City buses, or my bike.

My bike. My parents had promised me a new bike if I passed the exam’. Well, I got a bike, one which my Dad assembled from spare parts.

It wasn’t what I wanted or had expected, and I was ungrateful, and quite churlish about this “new bike”.

I’d wanted a brand new Raleigh with “drop” handle bars, and ten speeds.

Instead I got a “old man’s bike”, repainted and re-fitted, but with “upright” handlebars, and an old fashioned “Sturmey Archer” three speed bike at that.

And my Fairfield misery began in September 1955. More about that tomorrow.

Friday, 11 April 2008

Songs of my fundamentalist youth (1)

When we, the gang of Plymouth Brethren teens, were in our mid teens, Mr. Eddie Iles, one of our youth leaders, made us sing the song below.

We protested, and hated the thing, especially the refrain. We despised the idea of a final judgment, and eternal hell.

Already we were resisting Fundamentalist tenets.

But “cursed be memory”, I have never forgotten the song. I woke up the other morning with it ringing through my mind.

And it is a bit more radical that I could have remembered.

That’s not to say that I recommend it!

I dreamed that the great judgment morning
Had dawned, and the trumpet had blown;
I dreamed that the nations had gathered
To judgment before the white throne;
From the throne came a bright shining angel,
And he stood on the land and the sea,
And he swore with his hand raised to Heaven,
That time was no longer to be.


And O, what a weeping and wailing,
As the lost were told of their fate;
They cried for the rocks and the mountains,
They prayed, but their prayer was too late.

The rich man was there, but his money
Had melted and vanished away;
A pauper he stood in the judgment,
His debts were too heavy to pay;
The great man was there, but his greatness,
When death came, was left far behind!
The angel that opened the records,
Not a trace of his greatness could find.


The widow was there with the orphans,
God heard and remembered their cries;
No sorrow in Heaven forever,
God wiped all the tears from their eyes;
The gambler was there and the drunkard,
And the man that had sold them the drink,
With the people who gave him the license,
Together in hell they did sink.


The moral man came to the judgment,
But self righteous rags would not do;
The men who had crucified Jesus
Had passed off as moral men, too;
The soul that had put off salvation,
“Not tonight; I’ll get saved by and by,
No time now to think of religion!”
At last they had found time to die.


Thursday, 10 April 2008

A lament for National Public Radio.

If music be the food of love - play something unusual dammit!

My local National Public Radio (NPR) station, broadcasting out of Tampa, and a source of classical music is in a rut.

It’s the rut of Baroque music and Mozart, with a bit of Haydn and Beethoven throw in, and a constant repetition of two pieces by Vaughan Williams ( “The Lark Ascending” and “Variations on a theme by Thomas Tallis“ ), introduced each time with the bogus enthusiasm which to suggest “hey folks, here is something you’ve never heard before”.

In the Baroque department we are overfed with Vivaldi, and especially with his “Four Seasons” - (the most widely overplayed bit of classical music in the WORLD - truly!) , and Bach, with his “Brandenburg Concertos” being repeated ad infinitum and ad nauseam.

We almost never hear Choral music, or music for the Organ. And I have never ever heard a bit of Lieder.

I e-mailed the music director of the radio station, and complained about his constant repetition of Bach’s Six Brandenburgs.

I suggested that the station should play each of them as arranged for Kazoo, and then vow to play not a one of them for two years.

He sent me a good natured and jovial reply, but the diet of Bach, Vivaldi, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven and Vaughan Williams is still our staple food, with the same repetitious diet for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

So I rarely listen to music on NPR from Tampa these days. The Ft. Myers station (with a “dicey” signal this far north) is much more adventurous. I tune in at home where most times I can get a decent signal.

Here I move into my “old fart mood”. I long for the days of Boston based “Morning Pro-Musica” with its idiosyncratic host Robert J. Lurtsema.

Robert J was a self taught musicologist, whose program (seven mornings a week from 7:00 a.m. - Noon, (later scaled back to Saturdays and Sundays), would either infuriate or excite the listeners.

Here is his obituary, which tells you more than I know about Mr. Lurtsema.

For a while he had an obsession with Sitar Music, and the work of Ravi Shankar. This drove many of us “nuts”.

But, on the other hand, I would heard of the Sitar and Ravi Shankar without Robert J.

And it was the same Robert J who introduced me to Leid, and especially to Schubert. I can never forget his series on Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin. Sadly, I’ll never again hear that wonderful music on NPR.

Today’s NPR is a wasteland of news, comment and, “call in shows”. Its programs are tired and weary with the now terminally dull “A Prairie Home Companion”; and the tiresome “Car Talk” as staples. Gone are the days when NPR could be counted on to expand one’s horizons.

It is now “ mainstream” radio, with a contrived balance between right and left; and with a decided preference for the old and tested.

But NPR doesn’t seem to understand that its programming is also old and wearisome.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008


Brief Blog Day .....

cos I am off to the Opera again tonight, and will get home way past my bedtime.

It's the last Opera of the season. We are to Così fan tutte by Mozart, which should be very pleasing.

There is little not to like about Mozart's music.

I had lunch today at the "Palm Cafe", almost a "hole in the wall" on 17th Street very near my home.

This place is under the third ownership since a moved here (21 months ago). Wow. The new owner, a Mexican woman has hit the jackpot.

I had a fabulous Chicken fajita - one in which I was sad when I ate the last mouthful - I wanted more! It came with the best coleslaw I have eaten in my life. Fresh, crisp and crunchy, with an unexpected ingredient. Just some very tiny bit of orange - enough to enhance but not overpower the 'slaw. I mentioned this to the owner, and she was proud to say that this was her very own recipe.

I also saw some mouth-watering omelettes and burgers being served to other tables.

Bon appetite!

Tuesday, 8 April 2008


I forgot to blog yesterday. Just forgot. Did you miss me?

I procrastinate about some things. Having my hair cut. Polishing my shoes (my Dad would be sorely disappointed!). Cutting my finger and toe nails.

I cut my finger nails on Sunday. Yesterday I noticed that I had not done so for the second finger on my right hand.

How do you do that? Trim the nails on two thumbs and seven fingers, and forget the eighth?

D. was very upset at Res. House yesterday. He came to me in a bit of a panic. “There’s a guy out there”, he said, “reading in Arabic or Hebrew”. “It scares me“, he added.

I tip-toed behind the reader. He was reading from the Jewish Scriptures. I could not be certain whether he was translating from Hebrew (on the right hand side of the pages), or reading from English (on the left hand side).

I assured D. that it was O.K. to read in Hebrew (the original language of what Christians call The Old Testament), or even in Arabic.

D. was not convinced.

My Bank now has “greeters” - people who are assigned to welcome customers. My greeter yesterday was a lovely Hispanic woman named Lucy.

I asked if she knew that her name means “light”. She did, and asked my how I knew. I said a bit about Santa Lucia and the Scandinavian celebration of her. Lucy had never heard about this.

Then we chatted about “Lucy” being rooted in the Latin “Lux” (meaning light), and other cognates such as “lucid” and “elucidate”.

The teller (cashier in U.K.) called me and we dealt with my transaction .

Then a remembered another cognate: “Lucifer”. (S)he was the “fallen” Angel of Light.

On my way out of the Bank I asked Lucy if she knew about Lucifer. She did, but she had never connected that name with her own.

“Lucifer” is also identified as the bright and morning star.

It was a neat encounter with my Bank’s greeter.

I forgot to tell Lucy that matches were once known as “Lucifers”.

Lux et Pax.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Dangerous questions

I try to walk for 50 or 60 minutes each morning. I walk with my head down. Colleen, another walker, asked my why my head was always down. I told her that this is my “thinking time”.

That’s partly true. The whole truth is that I walk with my head down so that I can ignore other walkers and their damn dogs. It does not work!

But this morning I was thinking. Dangerous thoughts.

You see, I get e-mails from good friends with wonderful pictures of nature, and of wondrous animals. And these e-mails often end with sentiments such as “How wonderful is the Creator who ‘painted’ these great pictures”.

(That begs the question about the fact of evolution; and the part that humans have taken in shaping ‘nature’)

But it raises an awkward question. If “God” is the Creator of all, and is to be thanked for the beauties of nature; than why is not he/she to be held responsible (i.e. blamed) for the enormous cruelties of this world?

No “we’ll all understand it in heaven” piety will help me. Maybe there is no heaven (or hell).

Maybe the idea of God is but a myth.

Or maybe we are all being drawn to a mystery: incongruous, disturbing; enigmatic - and we hope - deeply loving.