For Harry Rabinowitz

My grandfather died last week at the age of 100.  Unfortunately, thanks to the French law requiring cremation within six days of death, and to generally poor timing, I, along with several other members of the family can’t get to the funeral.  Only a member of my family could manage to die in the middle of a European football tournament, my cousin’s GCSE exams, immediately prior to the collective insanity of our EU Referendum, and find his funeral being scheduled abroad at the whim of a disinterested foreign bureaucrat, on the day of a national transport strike.  (To explain my mild cynicism, another member of my family was once genuinely late for their own funeral when the hearse got lost… some days my more theatrical relations do seem to be living in a situation comedy.)

As I cannot be there in person tomorrow for Harry at his final send off, I wanted to write something expressing what it meant to me, growing up, to have this person in my life.

“Not everyone can be bothered to charm a child. For someone who loved an audience, Harry was, rare in a musical obsessive, also someone who knew when to be quiet.

I have fond memories of long walks in the woods with a battered basket, hunting for edible mushrooms, my sister getting her wellies stuck in a bog and needing to be rescued, then watching in fascination as he insisted he cook and eat what we had picked. Other adults wringing their hands, forbidding us from partaking, convinced he would suffer the consequences of his own stubborn refusal of natural caution.

I remember piggybacks and very serious games of pooh sticks using the stream at Hope End. I remember visiting Mr Pumblechook, looking for sweets in hollow trees, and I remember my earliest form of musical education, when Harry used to ask me to help him find all the Cs on his piano.

A lot of people knew him as a serious, charming, professional musician. I knew him as the charming joker who taught a shy, seven year old girl to clap polyrhythms and tend bar, and who preferred his favourite music, clothing and even footwear to be loud.

He surrounded himself with laughter, and enjoyed wine, women, and orchestral music wherever such delights were to be had.

Little doubt that he will start organising some sort of a gig surrounded by friends, old and new. Woe betide the third desk violins if they miss the F sharp in the third bar of the second movement. The maestro’s grimace will not balk at halos.”

Harry’s obituaries can be found on the BBC, the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Jerusalem Post, the Classic FM, and the London Symphony Orchestra websites.

Harry’s Desert Island Discs episode can be found on BBC iPlayer Radio here.

Fabula rasa

This new life chafes at her
Like fresh skin, stretched
Taut over familiar tenderness
Of an old, raw wound
Nothing fits her now
Not time, nor place
As long-jawed expressions
Must face up to unflattery
And quit sliding into view
Over blank slate

Duellist

To whom must I carry
This fight for my life?
May I choose the weapon
I wield in such bout?

Too much goes unchallenged
To forego the knife
It’s all souls be damned
If we don’t have it out

Or is it unwritten
More truistic lore
That what may have been
Is what yet must endure?

If such be the ruling
I fancy it time
The tables were tipped
To new flavour of crime

I’m deluged by duty
The dreadfullest foe
And Wednesday’s child
Has a head-ful of woe

A small enough wager
This minimal soul
All but shredded for bandages
Wholesomely foul

To gather her forces
Aye, therein the rub
With little to muster
And less up above

But battle she will
Nay, still stronger – she must
Ere the blood in her veins
Stains the dust dirty rust

So passionless sweethearts
Untruthful and grey
Be leached of my love
And stay hidden away

I’ve a need to reclaim
All the hours I lost
And hold views on the interest
Added to cost

Here’s a health to the vigorous
May she prepare
For all that her demons
Can throw at her there

It soon will be ended
Decided and done
And with luck of the draw
She may keep what is won

A Marriage of Convenience

The unwilling coexistence of passengers.
Introduced with a nod, the proposal made
By the raising of an eyebrow;
The automatic courtesy shrug
Finalizing a contract of mutual misery
For several hundred miles to come.
A contract to ignore the insupportable,
With the unwritten clauses
Detailing petty irritations, annoying personal habits
And unwelcome elbows
Insinuating their way into the afternoon
As the fields and houses flash by.
A blanket of humanity, settled, staid.
Sliced-through by the rattling train
Travelling at breakneck speed.

Dancing around the bedroom in my pyjamas

Dancing around the bedroom in my pyjamas I pause to pirouette, feeling the scrape of the carpet, crumb-covered, beneath the ball of my blister-blighted foot, and I am beautiful. Without makeup, without mirrors, with no one to look at me or to stroke my ever-hungry ego, I breathe in the stale, book-dusty air, hear the tinny music of the radio, spy your socks on the floor, and, tutting to myself, march proudly onward to face the morning.