Monday, 1 July 2019
Left Field: CHAPTER THIRTY TWO - No Wrecks & Nobody Drowned
La Torre de Dalt is a large mas (a Catalan traditional farmhouse) in the hills above Girona. It’s the place where, for the last six years, Anne has run her annual writing retreats. When her course ended in June 2015, I hired it for a second week and invited friends and relatives to join me. I told them this was a celebration for my 70th year, but it also marked the completion of Left Field – bringing together some of those who have played their part in my life and without whom I would have had no memoir. One or two played their part in keeping me alive to be there at all.
Among the guests were Norman Boyer (Canford and Argentina), Eileen Davis, (Essex University), Sue Smith (college teaching friend), Anthea Norman-Taylor, Jane Glitre and Dorothy Byrne (War Child years), Liz and Peter Huhne (family), Alice Kilroy (Roger Sutherland’s former wife), John Trent and Eva Zimmermann (neighbours from Muswell Hill and whose two daughters grew up with my two sons), Manuela Beste (early reader of a Left Field draft), Lee Pennington (La Torre chef and Mancunian wit) and Debbie Reid (sous-chef). Oha Maslo and Teo Krilic (my two Mostar sons) drove through the night from Bosnia with two small children to join us.
I had worried how these people from my past and present would mix: a political banner maker, a businessman, a bereavement counsellor, musicians, writers and journalists. I need not have. Widely and in some cases, wildly, disparate people spent the week talking, eating, drinking, walking and partying together. No one there will forget how we all fell in love with Alice as she encouraged us all, willingly or not, towards the Revolution.
We had tai chi classes, table tennis championships, swimming and, with a few writers there from the week before, writing workshops. I was told later that the tai chi with added yoga had been organised to help ‘ground’ me.
The writers soon became known as the ‘murmuration of writers’ as they met in corners of the building to create new work or read excerpts from their novels and poems. They seemed to swoop through the building like birds. In the evenings, during their ‘open mic’ nights, they read their work and invited the rest of us to join them.
Oha apologised for turning down their invitation to hear them: ‘As soon as I see the first comma,’ he told me, ‘I go into a coma.’ If I’d told him that one person was writing a novel about an unsuccessful whorehouse closing down, he might have forgotten his problems with punctuation marks.
In any case, his apology was adopted by Julian Herbert, one of the poets there, as the opening phrase for his paean to the week:
Trace back through castles, Until, until they’re in the sky, And we hold hands together, While we fly.
We had musical nights and talent nights. Teo played guitar while Oha joined him on the cajón drum. He sang ‘Na Klepe¬i Nanulama’.
Peter Huhne recited Marriott Edgar’s ‘The Lion and Albert’ – made famous by Stanley Holloway and set in Blackpool where ‘there was no wrecks and nobody drownded’.
La Torre looks across at the Cap de Creus above Cadaques where Dali had his summer home. Some guests visited his museum in Figueres, but they didn’t need to go there to experience the surreal.
The week took on a weirdly wonderful quality when Oha told me that the nine-man Balkan rock group Dubioza Kolektiv were coming by. They had been gigging in Spain and were en route from Barcelona to France, on a tour which was to end at the Glastonbury Festival. When someone asked them where they were from, they answered – from practically every country of ex-Yugoslavia. ‘What was that war all about?’ said Mario. ‘Here we are all together again.’ With funky haircuts and dressed in black, they didn’t touch the bottle of whisky they had brought for me, but drank tea and coffee and ate dainty biscuits.
The whisky was emptied that evening, but with no help from me. I am no longer allowed to drink much alcohol. This was a great surprise to earlier drinking partners, Oha and Teo in particular. They shook their heads in bafflement each time I turned down an offer of another beer or glass of wine.
The only advantage of not joining in, apart from staying alive, was that I was able to talk a bit more sense and on Lee Pennington’s night off, manage to barbeque for 35 people without burning anything.
One of the things about getting old is that you sleep less. Perhaps nature is compensating you for diminishing your time left on the planet. ‘Hey. Wake up. Make the most of what you have left.’
I woke up each morning in time to see the sun rise.
On the last morning I found Jane up as well. She told me that I said, ‘There is always a sense of bereavement at the end of a holiday, but I have been feeling this every day.’
The death of my father, my illness and brief touch with death and now an upsetting family misunderstanding.
On the final night, Sue gave me a notebook with her drawings of La Torre, Manuela read her ‘Thanks for the Memory’ adapted from Leo Robin’s and Ralph Rainger’s poem and set to the music of Bob Hope’s theme tune. ‘Thanks for the memories, Of lunch from twelve to four and oh, so so much more, The dishes piled sky high, no matter how we try. By the way, what happened to that last huge dirty pot?’
Maureen Larkin composed a ‘haiku’ for me, which pretty well sums up my life:
70 miles speeding,
The cops have not caught me yet, No point braking now.