|Posted by John S Taylor on April 18, 2021 at 12:40 AM|
Yesterday Val and I watched the funeral of Prince Philip on TV. We found it solemn and moving, in keeping with a remarkable life of service.
I often feel that these great occasions mean even more if one can feel a personal connection. Thirty years ago, when I was a cathedral lay-clerk, and my sons Richard and Will were choristers, we took part in the Royal Maundy ceremony. After the rehearsal, the gentlemen of the Chapel Royal choir joined us for a drink in our ‘local’ and we were struck by the love and reverence they clearly felt for their Queen. Yesterday, among Prince Philip’s regalia, I caught sight of the ribbon of the Italy star which was also one of my father’s campaign medals.
Another small connection: the Kyiv Kontakion was arranged by Sir Walter Parratt, who was in charge of the Music at St George’s Windsor in the first quarter of the last century, having once been the organist at Wigan Parish Church, where I sang in the 1960s. Parratt was a chess fanatic, and I seem to remember a story of him playing the forty-eight preludes and fugues of Bach while simultaneously defeating two opponents.
The music was sung by a vocal quartet rather than a choir, three lay-clerks of the regular choir being joined by a full-voiced female soprano. Some wondered why a boy treble had not been used. It was probably a matter of balance. Val’s soprano voice is quite free of vibrato and about the same weight as that of a boy chorister. Back in the day, she and I sang in a quartet of with two other men. It worked well in performance, but in a recording session we had to place the counter-tenor well behind the other three to avoid him ‘swamping’ the rest of us.
In the flood of reminiscences following the Duke’s death there have been many references to his famous so-called ‘gaffes’, one of which always strikes a chord with us. Of some botched job or other, Philip commented that it looked ‘as if it had been done by Indians’. Our last paid employment before retiring was in India, in what was touted as the most technologically sophisticated boarding school on the planet. Many of the Indian teachers and support staff were outstanding professionals, but arriving back one day at our luxurious on-campus residence we found that the maintenance team had just departed after repainting the upstairs landing. Not wanting us to smear our clothes, they had taken steps to dry the paint as quickly as possible. The un-earthed naked wires of a two-bar electric heater had been plugged into a wall socket with matchsticks. The heater stood on a wooden stool which was already smouldering.
|Posted by John S Taylor on March 15, 2021 at 4:30 AM|
I had a lot of respect for Harry, who used his undoubted charisma to promote valuable organizations such as the Invictus Games. Yes, before he learned better, he did some daft things. So did I: Standing on the front passenger seat of my 1954 Austin Somerset with my top half protruding through the open sunroof, clad in a Wehrmacht-style leather greatcoat and greeting the largely Labourite populace of Wigan with rightist salutes. Has anyone else noticed that Harry’s antics in Nazi uniform ape one of the most popular ‘Dad’s Army’ episodes?
I ploughed through ‘Meghan & Harry: The Real Story’ by Lady Colin Campbell (a title the author clings onto though apparently she held it for less than a year). It’s turgid and repetitive stuff, but two things stick in the memory. One is Meghan’s fondness for the word ‘classy’. (A term not used by classy people). The other is the repeated claim that Meghan’s overriding ambition is to be ‘the most famous woman in the world’.
I smiled at the statement by Trisha Goddard that before marrying Harry ‘Meghan was America’s princess’. She wasn’t anything of the kind. She was merely an actress in a minor soap. Of course she won’t ‘go back to acting’. She never left it. I wonder if the stylistic resemblance to the Duchess of Windsor is entirely accidental.
The Oprah interview was as smooth as if it had been scripted. Piers Morgan isn’t my favourite person, and I wouldn’t go so far as his ‘I don’t believe a word of it’, but there was a lot to be sceptical about, not least, Ms Winfrey’s simulated shock when the race issue was raised. I’m sure I’m not the only person to remember that Meghan had not met Oprah before inviting her to her wedding along with a raft of other potentially useful ‘celebritees’. I wish I’d invited her to mine.
I am far from being an expert on the royal family, but the suggestion that Archie was being penalized by being denied a royal title did not ring true. As I understand it, there are rules preventing the kind proliferation of HRH titles which, in some foreign dynasties led to a glut of idle princes and princesses.
There seems to be a disingenuous attempt to hijack future debate as to who commented about Archie’s possible colour. The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh are specifically excluded, though if any senior member of the royal family were to put his foot in it the most likely candidate would be Prince Philip. Ruling him out, whilst refusing to come clean, casts suspicion elsewhere. I suspect that if the issue were properly examined, whoever said what, it would not turn out to be nearly as useful to the Sussexes.
Whatever one thinks of the royal family and the Commonwealth, Elizabeth Windsor has put seventy years of dedication into both. This interview was intended to do damage and it has been very effective in doing it. And, for the moment at least, Meghan Markle is the most famous woman in the world.
|Posted by John S Taylor on February 20, 2021 at 10:40 PM|
Val and I have lived in Spain for much of the past twenty years, and in three Latin American countries before that. Shortly after we arrived here, in a bar in the stunningly picturesque neighbouring village of Iznajar, we overheard a conversation between a British estate agent and an English couple who were interested in buying a property there:
‘We’ve had holidays on the coast, and lots of the locals spoke English, but we’ve been here for three days now, and apart from the Dutch couple who run our B&B, we haven’t heard a word of English.’
‘Don’t worry about that. It’s changing so fast that in ten years time hardly anybody in this village will speak Spanish, and that includes the locals.’
My expression must have said it all, because Val fixed me with the hard stare she adopts when she knows I’m about to leap into a conversation which is none of my business. I am told that honest realtors do exist and one fine day (like Madame Butterfly) I hope to meet one, but this crook left me gobsmacked. I only hope his potential clients treated him and his outrageous lies with the contempt they richly deserved.
Out here in the olive country, the ability to understand Spanish is still vastly more important than it would be in Benidorm or anywhere else on the concrete coast. A while back, our nearest neighbours were in a tizzy because the British couple who had recently bought Gamba’s old cortijo were parking their car dangerously near the steep, blind hairpin bend on the narrow camino up to our group of three houses. I interpreted, the car was shifted, and harmony was restored. But the new Brits will definitely have to learn some Spanish if they are going to survive and flourish here.
As in most other things, Val and I have a symbiotic relationship with regard to language. Whether in English or Spanish, I can talk up a storm, but she is a better listener, and often picks up meanings and nuances that escape me. Clearly, we only speak Spanish with each other when not to do so would exclude someone else from the conversation. When we lived in India, Bhupesh, our splendid general factotum, was, like me, an inveterate earwigger, and if the conversation needed to be confidential we foiled him by speaking Spanish.
Someone on the international internet forum of which I’m a member posted that locals in his host country resent it when they hear him and his family speaking English, but in general, Spaniards are courteous people who are not unhappy to hear you speaking your own language and are visibly pleased when you speak theirs.
Even though we have been out of the UK for thirty years, we still hanker after Marmite, so we sometimes go to the weekly English market which takes place forty minutes drive from here, in a Spanish hotel adjacent to a British ghetto. I confess to a mild irritation when I greet the barman in good Spanish, and he offers, in halting English, to pull me a pint.
|Posted by John S Taylor on February 19, 2021 at 12:30 AM|
John Sharrock Taylor is my nom de plume and my nom de voix, the name I use when I write, or sing in public. The original John Sharrock Taylor was my father’s RAF pilot brother, killed in 1942 when his Wellington bomber crashed in flames. He was a hero in many different ways, and I carry his name with humility and pride.
I was actually christened John Sydney, and from the moment I really became aware of it, I detested my middle name and recalled with loathing that as soon as I could string a sentence together, my mother Beatrice had taught me to parrot ‘John Sydney Taylor, two-seventy Warrington Road, Ince’.
In the 1950s, Sydney was as old-fashioned as Gladys, and I knew no other Sydneys of my age, but that wasn’t the problem. By the time I was in junior school I was an avid film fan, and it seemed that the only Syds on the silver screen were not the clean-cut heroes I admired, but low-life crooks, played by the likes of Sydney Tafler and Sid James, who built a career on a sleazy persona and a dirty laugh. Then, in my first week at Wigan Grammar School, I was daft enough to reply truthfully to a ‘friend’ who asked what my middle initial stood for, and thus condemned myself to seven years of Syd.
When Juliet stood on the famous balcony and uttered that despairing cry of ‘Wherefore art thou Romeo?’ she was not asking where her beloved was, but why she had had the misfortune to fall for a member of the Montague family, deadly enemies of her own house of Capulet. I reckoned I knew how she felt. From my point of view, my parents had screwed up doubly in naming me. I would have been perfectly happy with John or Jack, but why, for God’s sake, did they have to turn it into Jacky, a handle my cousin Joan, the Violet Elizabeth Bott of the Taylor clan, was still beating me with when I was married and in my middle twenties? What is this itch that goads some folk into tinkering with other people’s names? Why, when I had made my preference for John abundantly clear, did my uncle Harold decide to call me Johnny? Why did my mother suddenly opt for Jonathan? And as for Sydney? I was about to write ‘Words fail me’, but of course they hardly ever do.
I suppose my mother must have told me when I was small that I had been named after her father, my grandfather John Sydney Hart, but if so, I was far too young to have any inkling of what that meant to her. It was only fifteen or so years ago, when I began to build our family tree that I began to understand. I never knew either of my Hart grandparents. My grandmother, also Beatrice, had died at twenty-one, giving birth to my mother. My grandfather John Sydney had died in his middle forties, four years before I was born. Beatrice had adored her dad, and by all accounts he was a good man. My outspoken rejection of his name must have pained her, for which I am truly sorry.
|Posted by John S Taylor on February 17, 2021 at 1:50 AM|
Spring comes early to Andalucía, but a swallow, arriving from Africa when snow lies heavy on the sierras and our night-time temperatures are hovering just above zero? ‘That simply has to be a case of mistaken identity,’ I hear you say.
Months of drought, with the new olives shrivelling on the branches like dried peas, have been followed by a wet January, with just the kind of gentle, soaking rain that would have been a godsend if it had come four months ago rather than now, when everyone is struggling to harvest the meagre crop.
The trailing rosemary on our garden wall is covered with tiny forget-me-not blue flowers, but only one hardy, solitary bee is at work. ‘We have a new grandson,’ I tell her, following an age-old English country custom. ‘He’s named Alfred, but I’m sure he’ll become Alfie. We’ve seen him on Zoom, sleepily cocooned in wool, in sunny, snowy Minnesota, cherished by his parents Lindsey and Richard, his big brother Joe and sisters Claire and Frankie. Maybe we’ll be able to meet him later this year.’
The lockdown has treated us well. We wear masks in the village and anywhere else we might meet other humans, but here in the campo we walk and breathe free.
Last Sunday was St Valentine. In church, we sang words by fourteenth century poet Geoffrey Chaucer:
Now welcome Summer with thy sunne soft,
That hast this winter`s weathers overshake,
And driven away the longe nightes black.
Saint Valentine, that art full high on loft,
Thus singen smalle fowles for thy sake:
Now welcome Summer with thy sunne soft,
That hast this winter`s weathers overshake.
Well have they cause for to gladden oft,
Since each of them recovered hath his mate.
Full blissful may they singen when they wake:
Now welcome Summer with they sunne soft,
That has this winters weathers overshake,
And driven away the longe nightes black.
I wasn’t completely convinced that Summer had arrived yet, but as it happens, it was a gloriously sunny day, the first for many a week. And, of course Master Chaucer, courtier, diplomat, scientist, spy, and the first of our great poets to abandon Latin and French and write in his native English, was quite right. This is exactly the time when the birds are mating.
So, was that solitary swallow a case of mistaken identity? Every year red-throated swallows come from Africa to breed in our part of Andalucía and a family of them nests in Rev Doreen’s entrance hall. Whilst we would have cheerfully chaffed anyone else who made the claim, Doreen is an expert ornithologist who can be relied on to tell the difference between a hawk and a handsaw. So that bird, recklessly arriving before the insects it feeds on, is definitely a swallow.
A single swallow doesn’t make a Summer, but could this brave, solitary traveller be a sign of better times to come?
|Posted by John S Taylor on February 8, 2021 at 2:25 AM|
Over the past few days I have been updating this site because two new books will shortly be released:
Wigan Pier to Andalucia is completely new, and A Rocket for the Lodgers is what Spanish car salesmen call ‘Semi-Nuevo’, being based on A Wigan Childhood, published more than ten years ago but now with multiple revisions, some new chapters, and a Kindle version. The print version now has a typeface which (unlike the original) is big and readable.
Both print versions have 50 + illustrations, most of which are appearing for the first time.
A Kindle version was also recently added to Six Steps from Wigan Pier.
If you live in or near Wigan, I wish I could guarantee that the print versions of all my books will appear in your local bookshops, but unfortunately that is not how modern publishing works, and Amazon is likely to be much quicker than Waterstones.