Where I talk about my quest for refined skin tone.
This performance of Brindisi, the drinking song from Verdi’s La Traviata went down especially well with the invited audience in the Villa Anna. Except, perhaps, the man behind me checking his phone. Enjoy, anyway, the Bromley Youth Concert Band on their recent Sicilian tour.
Oh yes, and pay particular attention to the trumpet solo from 16 year old Dan, a young man with a brilliant musical future.
This is a performance from the only formal venue concert of the Bromley Youth Concert Band trip to Sicily, to an invited audience at Villa Anna near Ispica, Sicily. You can spot Eliza in the back row, her long hair draped over the back of her chair.
Villa Anna is in the middle of the Sicilian countryside and was always going to be a long drive. It would have been easier if a) I had not taken the country route and become lost in Ragusa. b) Sicily had better road signage c) my companion had not distracted me with an obscene tale about oyster consumption. The concert night turned into a 12 hour round trip with little or no food or drink. But it improved my MarioCart skills no end.
So this is where I say my final farewell to my cousin Nisha, who finally succumbed to the all-encompassing, family-destroying, despicable, demonic disease, ovarian cancer, two days after my return from India, at the very end of June. Goodness, how she fought. I know many people who have cancer despise the battle analogy: as her husband Mark said, it is an unfair fight. The battlefield is uphill all the way and the driving rain and wind sting your eyes and, while cancer is a Nuclear Power, you are armed only with a blunt instrument. And yet, I know of no other way to describe how my cousin kept herself alive for four years of tests and chemotherapy and surgery and pain and exhaustion. She was written off more than once but she kept going, though ever weaker, projecting a calm, dignified, fragile persona to all but the closest until within a a few weeks of her death. She kept going, through sheer force of will because she did not want to leave her family. She was only 57.
The last time I saw her was to take her a pie or some other frippery, in May, I think. When I said goodbye with a slightly too long, slightly too strong hug, she said she hoped she would see me again before my next trip to India. We both probably knew then that this would not happen, but this is how I want to remember Nisha. Gentle, smiling, calm, chatty, enjoying my company. I asked her how she was, and about the cancer, of course, but there was so much else besides to talk about. She did not want anyone apart from a very few her to see her in her final weeks in the Royal Marsden. I respected this and stayed away. It makes me sad.
Her funeral last Tuesday, in dazzling sunshine and beautiful surroundings, was attended by people flying in from all over Europe, the world. One of the most poignant sights I shall ever see was my 84 year uncle, frail, stumbling a little, as he bent to bear his daughter on her final journey. Wrong.
A musical tribute, recorded by my offspring, off that morning on their Sicilian tour, and their grandfather at the organ. The Day Thou Gavest, Lord, is Ended. It was, you see. And the orations, heartfelt, enlightened all of us. Nisha had had fun and was remembered in fondness by so many. I sang Schubert’s beautiful Ave Maria for my largest, saddest, most appreciative audience yet. I stood at the back, by the organ, and I sang to Nisha’s fabric coffin, bedecked with lilies and roses and said goodbye and no-one else saw me. There was one inappropriate breath as I struggled with my sadness, but the rest was OK. I hope she would have liked it.
I’m so sad for her husband, who is a true hero. I’m sad for her daughter, not a year older than my own baby girl. I’m sad for the relationship I wish I could have had with her. Estranged families and a continued estrangement as adults – goodness knows why – mean that I have far too few memories, no treasured photos of sunny days and family lunches and Christmasses and birthdays and chilling in the garden. All those people present at her funeal described someone who was almost a stranger to me until the last few years, when illness cast a long, omnipresent shadow. So I find myself yet again grieving for the times we could have had together and the missed opportunities and the laughs and the fun. We were quite alike, I think, in many ways. I hope the time we spent together in Singapore and here made up in some way for all that waste. They say she was fond of me. I became very fond of her. It’s a sort of unfolding love, I guess.
What remains? Some memories. Strengthening family ties. I’ll try to look after them for you, Nisha. As best I can.
Oscar is thinking twice about jumping into the normally limpid river Ravensbourne this morning. He’s been a bit of a wuss about water since (I think) he fell into the pond in our garden as a puppy. He loves paddling and splashing in puddles but never goes out of his depth, preferring instead to tiptoe gingerly around the river bank to find a safe place from which to lunge and grab a stick.
It’s terribly frustrating for him as he stands and whinges, too frightened to swim, despite having webbed feet specifically designed for use by a water dog. He’s only swum properly once, when safely attached to the Boywonder or the OH, already in the water, with a lead. We’ve even thought of buying wetsuits to encourage him to swim.
On this occasion, however, it was pouring with rain and all the rainwater from the surrounding flooded fields was cascading into this normally slow-flowing stream. I’m glad Oscar didn’t dive in, I didn’t fancy going in to rescue him. Not that it would have made any difference: I don’t think I’ve ever been so wet on a dog walk.
I recently lost my engagement ring. I’d had it for 22 years and to was hard-won, believe me. When I say I lost it, it just suddenly vanished in all the kerfuffle surrounding obtaining my Overseas Citizenship of India and being so ill with that horrid coughing virus and taking my mum to India with her dementia and that. It disappeared from the ring holder in the kitchen where it had been placed for safekeeping while I did the washing up. I’ve had bad luck with rings lately. Two of them keep shedding their stones or breaking, and I’m now very cautious about wearing the engagement ring I used to have constantly on my finger.
So we duly processed the insurance claim and I have more or less chosen a replacement. It’s not exactly the same as the brilliant solitaire diamond in the original largely because nothing could replace the original that has such emotional value attached to it.
I telephoned the sales representative of our regular high-end London jeweller last week and made an appointment to choose the sort of thing I’m looking for. On Friday I duly walked into the shop with my husband. We were the only customers and, despite being greeted warmly, the staff did not appear to know who were were. So OH introduced himself and shook hands with the assistant, the one with whom I had spoken at some length on the phone, who continued to look at me quizzically and with complete incomprehension”
“And you are?”
And I watched as it suddenly dawned on him that I was neither my husband’s PA not the maid nor, perhaps, the mistress but the very person to whom he had spoken about the replacement ring. He knew I was coming in at that time with my husband, but somehow could not reconcile what he was seeing with the details of the appointment. Was it something about the way I was dressed? Or had he not expected me to be…err…brown?
I’ve encountered this sort of thing before. When I worked, our cleaners were let in by our nanny every Monday but I regularly dealt with the cleaner over the phone. Once I had a day off and opened the door to them and the woman’s face fell.
“Oh,” she said, with some disdain. “Who are you? The new nanny.”
“No. I’m Mrs B. We’ve spoken on the phone. A lot.”
“You don’t look like I expected. You don’t look like you sound.”
I wonder just who she expected.
It was shortly after we moved into that same house, when I was in my dressing gown late one morning as the Boywonder was about 3 months old and I wasn’t really coping very well. The doorbell rang and I opened the door to my neighbour across the road, who had arrived with several bags of clothes.
“You take in washing, don’t you? Could you do mine?”
She’d observed the weekly arrival of my laundry company to collect my ironing and jumped to conclusions. It was her husband, I later discovered, who asked other neighbours at parties, to which we were never invited, how they liked living next door to us. I wondered whether he complained about the smell. I never cooked curries. This is why I am never surprised at the popularity of the UKIPs.
Funny, isn’t it? You can present some people with all sorts of evidence and facts and they still prefer to stick to their prejudices.
*This is a quote from My Fair Lady. Still pretty true, I’d say.
The Bruch Violin Concerto has been going round and round in my head for the two weeks since its spectacular performance by the lovely Chloe at the school’s annual concert at St. John’s Smith Square, the London concert hall. Not all of it. Just those few bars about six minutes into the first movement where both violin and orchestra explode into a torrid flourish. To me it’s an expression of a battle against incipient and seemingly unavoidable doom. Yes. My earworms have an uncanny way of encapsulating my mood.
It is the Boywonder’s final full week at school ever. As I write this, he will have had his last trumpet lesson ever and bade farewell to his respected and admired, beloved actually, trumpet teacher of the last seven years, who has given him nothing but support and kindness and patience and encouragement. The Boywonder was once a very promising young trumpeter, you see, and a musical career was just one option of many. Having firmly decided at two years old that he wanted to play the trumpet, he started learning on a cornet four years later, when he was able to hold it. He delighted everyone with his solo playing and in concerts, and I think the music was the one thing that prospered throughout his dismal time at international School in Paris when we lived there. He passed his Grade 5 with the highest mark in the whole of that exam session in France having a few months previously secured music scholarships and awards at several local London day schools.
Yes, a bright future lay ahead of him. And then things suddenly became difficult, beyond his comfort zone. Just doing the practice became hard to fit in with a daily commute to school, hours of homework, co-curricular activities and a piano practice too. Yet some people manage it.
What happened for the Boywonder? Well, he seems to have given up. His teacher felt that he was playing so well at Grade 6 that he should progress directly to Grade 8 level where the pieces suddenly required more stamina and, we discovered, a complete change of approach for the Boywonder and his full half-Indian lips. He was required not to play anything challenging but instead to practise playing easy exercises in a revised lip position, or embouchure. This often happens to young players when they go off to music college: they have to unlearn everything they have previously assimilated in order to progress.
He tried, you know. But the embouchure change became an insurmountable obstacle for a teenager who was determined to dig in his heels and do exactly the opposite of what everyone around him was telling him. Despite all the support from school, from teacher, from music school tutors who at one stage put him touch with the Royal College of Music’s embouchure change expert, he never quite managed it. Because sometimes in life you’ve just got to plug away at stuff for years before you get where you want to be.
Music making that was originally a joy had become a chore. Having passed Grade 7 piano, all the extra practice required for Grade 8 was simply too much and he gave that up, despite being a fine pianist. Having once been Principal Trumpet, the poor Boywonder watched as all of his music school trumpet crew jumped over him in seniority. It did not help that his year at school also contained at least two fine and ultimately better trumpet players. If you’re quite good, it can be demoralising rather than a positive challenge to be surrounded by brilliant people. More than once he almost gave up the trumpet too, and it was only my begging that persuaded him not to. Giving up the piano when overwhelmed by O level work at 15 was one of the biggest mistakes of my life, you see, and I wanted to save him all of that heartache.
Yet he has struggled on and his undoubted musicianship has carried him through. Despite all of these setbacks he still plays in the Youth Windband, winning gold medals in national and international competitions. He has managed to secure a position as one of four trumpets in the prestigious Symphony Orchestra. Yet my daydream of being in the audience to watch him play the Haydn Trumpet Concerto at Smith Square has come to nothing, and nor has he ever played the trumpet solo in St James’s Infirmary Blues. Not to my knowledge, anyway. Grade 8 has eluded him thus far. We don’t know what he will do next.
Sadly the progress with music has mirrored his academic performance. An academic scholar, the Boywonder has only recently himself come to the realisation that not even prodigious natural ability will ever succeed without a an equal or greater amount of hard work and effort. It is not for lack of support from us, from teachers, from everyone. We have torn our hair out. It has been the most frustrating challenge in our lives for the past seven, ten years. But sometimes, people just have to earn these lessons for themselves. There is no telling them. And people often tell us that boys are more likely to behave like this than compliant, hard-working girls. Is this true? I don’t know. Perhaps boys do take longer to mature. It is just such a pity that so many life-shaping habits and hurdles crop up in the years before they are fully mature. Besides, there are plenty of boys who do seem to manage it.
Many, many rows have been had and it’s convenient, at the moment, to blame me. So I inevitably blame myself. Was I too pushy? Not pushy enough? Should I have engaged tutors or just backed off completely and left him to find himself in peace? I really don’t know although I’ll guess that there are plenty of people just queuing up to let me know. I’ve already had one extremely hurtful character assassination. How do I feel? Weary, frustrated, sad.
Where do we go from here? I don’t know. He’s 18 now and must make his own life. We sat in the sunshine on the garden swing seat a couple of days ago, sadly contemplating this last week of school ever. I mentioned that a former schoolmate of his told her Grandma, my friend, that she’d like to go back and start all over again.
“So would I,” replied the Boywonder.
“Would you?” I was taken aback.
“But this time, I’d work harder.”