Monday, 14 December 2009

Night of the Garter



Watching Offenbach's La Vie Parisienne on French TV the other night I became quite nostalgic over my days playing in pit orchestras. It was during a performance of La Vie Parisienne (playing the 2nd bassoon part on 'cello) in Scotland that I probably reached the very pinnacle of my musical career.

At the end everything becomes very animated with can-can dancers. Experience of this in the pit can be varied. If you're playing horn or trombone, they've probably put you right underneath the stage apron, and all you're conscious of is elephantine thumpings above your head, with each thump accompanied by showers of dust.

If you're playing violin, well to the front of the pit, the choice between appreciating the view immediately above you and keeping your eye on your music must be agonising. As it happens, the 2nd bassoon can-can part is so simple that it can be played effectively from memory, allowing the player to look about him/her and take in the whole frenetic ambience. I was lucky enough to be placed well forward.

On the last night of the run the famous can-can finished with the dancers ripping off their frilly garters and throwing them into the audience. Girls sometimes have problems throwing things any distance, and one short-trajectoried garter ended up on the end of my 'cello bow. I have to say at this point that it brought no privileges or benefits whatever, and I never discovered whose garter it was. But such an unusual trophy had to be kept, so it went into my special drawer and stayed there for many years.



When we moved house five years ago I emptied my special drawer into a bin-liner - we were only moving about 200 metres, so packing was fairly low-key - and into the black plastic bag went the frilly garter along with other treasured needments like a fossilised shark's tooth, some Spanish after-shave, a bird-warbler (put a little water into a bird-shaped container and blow gently down its hollow 'tail'), a lock of raven hair, a lucky Victorian penny, my favourite nail-scissors and so on. Then there was the Jolly Jumping Pecker, a wind-up penis that staggered fitfully about the floor, a prize I won at the Christmas do of the RAF band I played with for a time. All men should have a special drawer to keep such mementoes of halcyon moments in, wayside shrines filled with votive offerings to life's little triumphs and the winning hand fate occasionally deals. (Although at the time there were murmurings across the breakfast table about essentially frivolous natures, feet of clay, what would the neighbours/Board of Governors think, have you no sense of dignity?, capering's like a disease with you, etc., etc.)

There was also a pack of some pills called Wind-Eze, which I bought once simply for the name and the diverting possibility of passing the pack round, straight-faced, towards the end of any formal dinner parties we might be invited to.

It was a great mistake to put these treasures into a bin-liner. They were never seen again. As regards the Wind-Eze and the Jolly Jumping Pecker, probably just as well.

27 comments:

I, Like The View said...

I have such a drawer! (in fact I have various such drawers strategically placed around the house); I could send you the contents of one it you'd like. . . but it probably wouldn't be the same

I'll skip over the comment about how some girls throw (perhaps she wanted her garter to adorn your cello bow?) and move onto the gorgeous dresses. . .

if my wardrobe possessed one of those, I'd never have a problem deciding what to wear

(-:

Dave said...

The only dresses I own are long: black or cream.

Perhaps it would liven things up if I threw my garter to the congregation at the end of my sermon.

Christopher said...

I: ...and when the time comes - and long may it be postponed - for those drawers to be finally cleared out people will say 'What can he/she have possibly wanted with all this junk?' without realising what treasure chests of memories the keys will unlock. By that time dementia or Alzheimer's will have set in and I'll have forgotten anyway, but not you, I'm sure.

Dave: All your sermons, I'm certain, climax on an upbeat, positive note. 'Yes, I can-can', in fact.

For what occasion would you wear a white cassock?

Christopher said...

Dave: Sorry - erm, cream?

*note to self: READ the comment before replying*

Dave said...

In the Anglican churches in which I worked half-time a few years ago, white cassocks were worn for eucharists.

I bought one (actually a cassock-alb, with hood) so that I didn't look the odd one out. I now use it for weddings and baptisms, and sometimes on Christmas Eve.

Vicus Scurra said...

Please tell me which one of the dancers is you in the photograph.

Christopher said...

Vicus, the one playing 2nd bassoon part on the cello. Cue very crude but witty joke from Sir Thomas Beecham

Rog said...

I'm still overcome by the wind-up penis.

You musicians are not the sophisticated bunch I always imagined. I remember going to see my mate Geoff rehearsing in the Pit playing double bass, and the conductor stopped procedings and pointed at him. "You're flat as a witch's tit, dear boy!" he bellowed.

Christopher said...

Well, if we're in this vein, in for a penny, in for a pound: Sir Thomas Beecham is supposed to have said to a lady 'cellist who was struggling a bit: 'Madam, you have that beautiful object between your legs, capable of giving so much pleasure to so many, and all you do is scratch it.'

Please excuse me.

Sarah said...

*Girls sometimes have problems throwing* ? ha ....I'll have you know I can toss as well as any bloke....

I want to know what is in Dave's special drawer, perhaps he will let us know on boxing day.

Z said...

Lady Beecham lives in Bungay. She's one of Al's customers.

Christopher said...

Hi Sarah: Haven't seen you for a day or two - everything all right? I assume you're referring to tossing the caber? This is a rare skill and I'm sure you excel at it. Is there much call for it in Essex? Do you travel from Highland Games to Highland Games in the season? Is there video footage of you at it?

*thinks: ...but then perhaps she meant pancakes?*

Z: Sir T.Beecham died c.1960. He left 2 sons, Adrian and Thomas, who would be about 100 now. Is the Lady Beecham of whom you speak very elderly indeed, or could this be Sir T's granddaughter? Does she have a preference for baton-shaped vegetables?

Z said...

I believe she was his third wife, not the mother of his children. They had only been married a couple of years when he died. I wouldn't presume to guess her age of course, but it's not unlikely that she could have been married 50 years ago.

I should take note of whether she prefers courgettes to cauliflowers.

Christopher said...

...or celery sticks to beetroot. Yes, Z, quite right, an invaluable mine of information as usual. She was called Shirley Hudson and she worked for the RPO as librarian or something. Extraordinary to think she's still with us - it must be the vegetables that keep her going.

Dave said...

He actually died on the 8th March 1961.

Shirley Jean Hudson, his former secretary, who had worked for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra's administration since 1950, married him on the 10 August 1959.

If she joined the RPO at the age of 18, that would mean she was born 1938, and would thus be a mere stripling of 71. That 'if' is of course the crucial guess.

Sarah said...

Video??....Who do you think I am Abbey Titsmouse??

But I am fine...thanks for asking, just a few dramas that have taken up a little of my bog catching up time.

Christopher said...

Thank you, Dave. Encyclopedic as usual. I understand Beecham's second wife was a Miss Humbie, a name that had a very curious interpretation in a book popular in the 80s called The Meaning of Liff, if I remember correctly.

Bog catching up time, Sarah? I'm sorry you have this problem. (Maybe the Wind-Eze would have helped?) I sent Dave some prunes recently - I'm sure he'd let you have one or two if you thought this would help.

I don't know who this Abbey person is - presumably a well-known caber thrower? Doesn't sound very Scottish to me.

Sarah said...

Tsk...typo!

Well you must be the only man on the planet to have not watched the infamous AT in that case!

Must get back to work....

Dave said...

I have no idea who she is either. But then I've never been into popular culture.

Dave said...

Ahem. Check my maths. 1950 less 18 is 1932. That would make her 77.

Christopher said...

When you were younger, Dave (I leave you to work out when this was: maybe the arithmetical exercise would do you good?), did you never have a poster of Fred Titmus standing in front of a cheval mirror in his underwear?

Dave said...

No. I've never been into popular culture.

Christopher said...

It does you credit, Dave. Lydian Airs is proud to be associated with someone whose mind is firmly fixed on higher things.

(Patroclus - MA in Popular Culture - might raise an elegant eyebrow at this.)

I have a story to tell about poplar culture, but I'm not certain the world's quite ready for it yet.

Tenon_Saw said...

I don't have a drawer I have a biscuit tin.

Christopher said...

Hi, T-S. Good to see you again. It's been a while! Biscuit tin, eh? But what's in it?

Sarah said...

Poplar culture? I would, be interested that is...well sort of..it would be a busman's holiday or something. They make very good matchsticks...hope this helps.

Dave you don't know what your missing!

Christopher said...

Try him on Fred Titmus, Sarah.