Monday, 11 April 2011

The love of old friends

On Thursday 14 October 2010 and the following day I received much support and encouragement from old friends, not least from a group of five men I met originally … (think of a number) years ago at university.

One sent me a CD of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, whose music I had been aware of dancing around but not to for many years.

Another, who has an extensive knowledge of light (no, I do not mean insubstantial) entertainment sent—and continues to send—links to youtube clips of classic British comedians. It is an education in craftsmanship: Tommy Cooper may have appeared chaotic and disorganised, but that was his act and the fruit of intense preparation. Change one letter of “act” and you have “art” and are borne towards the Latin maxim “ars celare artem”, which may be translated as “art consists in concealing the artifice behind it”. I have searched the supposedly wonderful www in vain for the correct attribution of this quote: I recall it as being from the Roman lyric poet Horace, but trawling around has left me unsure and not a little anxious as to the state of my memory. Onwards, regardless…

The Roman lyric poet Quintus Horatius Flaccus, aka Horace (65BC-8BC), as imaginatively rendered by the 19th-century German artist, Anton Alexander von Werner.
One thing that Horace 
did say was “carpe diem”, normally rendered in English as “seize the day”, although the root meaning of the Latin verb carpere is “pluck”, suggesting that the fleeting pleasures of life are to be regarded as ripe fruits. Leave them on the tree and they will rot: best to enjoy them now.

Yet another friend sent me a message designed (successfully) to inject some much-needed stiffness into my backbone. To quote from this would make me appear vain, so I will just say that he was very generous in his assessment of the more positive aspects of my character!

The fourth of this group has offered to lend his skills and experience in long-distance running towards fund-raising for my rare lymphoma, while the fifth came to visit me on this very 14 October (and is, at the time of writing, on his way to see me again).

Friend 5 arrived safely, showing all the cheerfulness appropriate in one who has recently retired from the hard work of school teaching, a career in which he had invested all the years since graduating in classics all those  … (think of a number) years ago. He brought with him a packed lunch, a wealth of news and conversation, a calming presence and the loan of two DVDs of a progressive rock band whose music he and I, alone among our friends, appreciated without collapsing into mocking laughter. The band in question is Gentle Giant, loved in their native England by (ahem) all too few, but rather more appreciated in Europe.

Gentle Giant, whose career lasted from 1970 to 1980.
Multi-instrumentalists all, whose music drew on a wide range of styles and influences, their later career floundered amid attempts to take their output in a more commercial direction.
You can find out more at
My friend and I rounded off our time together with a stroll down to the nearby Thames and tea and cake in the excellent local bookshop that is not Waterstone’s.

Some of the Chilean miners whose ordeal underground finally ended on 14 October 2010 at 02.00 (UK time).
Their plight and extraordinary deliverance captured the imagination of many around the world and I hope they are doing OK now.
The picture also shows the President of Chile.

On Friday 15 October I became Medallion Man when I took delivery of a customised dog tag that would give brief details of my medical condition and treatment to suitable people should I ever collapse in the street. It was not that I considered this particularly likely, you understand, but I was apprehensive of falling into the hands of medical personnel whom I might not be capable of informing that the compound effect of disease and current chemotherapy was that my immune system could be severely compromised. I was carrying a warning card as well, but what if that had fallen out of my back pocket as I had collapsed in the street? So, belt and braces it was…

I listened to the CD of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra that had arrived the previous day and it was wonderful to concentrate on music that I had previously only experienced as background. The pieces had a minimalist style that filled me with a gentle energy, reminding me of an elegantly engineered clock mechanism. Although not overtly emotional in style, this was music with a beating heart and crafted with tenderness. It brought me tears of joy and gratitude for the love of friends and my ever-lurking fears were eased in an affirmation of the much that is good in life.

The Penguin Cafe Orchestra, founded by British guitarist, composer and arranger, Simon Jeffes, and active for 24 years  until Jeffes died in 1997.
This is the account Jeffes gave of how the idea for The PCO came to him:
"In 1972 I was in the south of France. I had eaten some bad fish and was in consequence rather ill. As I lay in bed I had a strange recurring vision, there, before me, was a concrete building like a hotel or council block. I could see into the rooms, each of which was continually scanned by an electronic eye. In the rooms were people, everyone of them preoccupied. In one room a person was looking into a mirror and in another a couple were making love but lovelessly, in a third a composer was listening to music through earphones. Around him there were banks of electronic equipment. But all was silence. Like everyone in his place he had been neutralised, made grey and anonymous. The scene was for me one of ordered desolation. It was as if I were looking into a place which had no heart. Next day when I felt better, I was on the beach sunbathing and suddenly a poem popped into my head. It started out 'I am the proprietor of the Penguin Cafe, I will tell you things at random' and it went on about how the quality of randomness, spontaneity, surprise, unexpectedness and irrationality in our lives is a very precious thing. And if you suppress that to have a nice orderly life, you kill off what's most important. Whereas in the Penguin Cafe your unconscious can just be. It's acceptable there, and that's how everybody is. There is an acceptance there that has to do with living the present with no fear in ourselves."

No comments:

Post a Comment