About a year after I started to learn the viola at school, I started to vibrate; that is, I discovered the technique of vibrato. But I concealed the fact from my viola teacher. Now why would I do such a thing? Why didn’t I say, “Mr Kinghorn, I’ve been practising vibrato. May I show you?” Was I scared that Mr Kinghorn might belong to the school of Sir Roger Norrington, and frown on such decadence? I hardly thing so. He was a delightful man, and a great viola player. He played for the BBCSSO. But I didn’t want to show him my newly acquired skill; I just thought it was too swanky. At the time, I recall we used to call people who got too big for their boots ‘Psueds’. You are liable to adopt the Caledonian Cringe early in life.
It’s all very well for me, with hindsight, to berate my younger self for such reticence. But now, I find myself doing exactly the same thing. In my Tuesday evening virtual German class, we have an exercise wherein we each describe to the class what we have been doing throughout the previous week. It so happens that for the past six weeks my life has been completely dominated by the book I’ve been writing. I have woken in the morning and with it already on my mind. I have scribbled away from 8 am until 2 pm. Then I have gone for a two hour walk. Further ideas have come to me, without any conscious effort on my part, especially during the latter stages of the walk. The spring broom has been in full bloom, and I associate these ideas with the experience of pausing before the gorgeous deep golden blossom and smelling that profoundly aromatic, marzipan scent. Back home, I’ve jotted the ideas down before they are forgotten, and in the evening I have carried on scribbling. The last thing on my mind, before sleep, has been the book. The book at bedtime.
Now my German classmates don’t know anything about this. I would never bring it up. Writing a book? It’s just too swanky. And I wouldn’t dream of telling them I’ve published two novels, and the third is due out in the New Year. Oddly enough, it would be okay if another class member brought it up. “I hear you’ve written a book.”
“Ich verstehe, dass du ein Buch geschrieben hast.”
“Ja. Drei Bücher.”
“Wie heißen sie?”
“Klickdoppelklick, Die Sieben Qualen von Alastair Cameron-Strange, und Schnelligkeitvogel.”
Anyway, I think the class will be spared this, as I’ve finished tome No 4. So if I’m asked tomorrow what I was up to yesterday, maybe I’ll be able to say in truth that I practised my viola. The latest tome is just shy of 65,000 words. I’ve never had such great fun writing anything – not even as a child. And as you can imagine, it has been a gift that it has come along during lockdown. “Gift?” I hear you say. “Are you saying you are a conduit giving expression to some higher power? Who do you think you are? Mozart? Next you’ll be a guest on Private Passions. Michael Barclay will have you read – portentously – a paragraph from your tome, and then you will choose Glenn Gould playing Bach’s Goldberg Variations because it is ‘sublime’. What a pseud!”
But I don’t care what you say. It has been a gift. This is how I know the book is now finished. When I passed the gorgeous crotal bloom yesterday the fresh ideas I received belonged to something entirely different.
So, Dienstag Abend, what will I talk about in German? With the lockdown, because each day is much like another, we’ve all been scratching our heads to come up with fresh material. The difficulty of practising social distancing in supermarkets seems to be a recurring theme. Maybe it was the experience of standing in line outside Sainsbury’s the other day that made me wake up this morning with the crazy idea that I would compose a limerick. I will say to the class, “Don’t panic! It is not rude.” It’s not as daft as it sounds. It is a simple form as verse forms go, and limericks tend to be written in the past tense. That’s grand, though why one should leap fully formed into my head I have no idea.
There was a young lady from Crewe,
Who hated to stand in a queue.
She’d always decline
To join in a line
In case she met someone she knew.
Now, how’s that going to go in German? Incidentally, here is my favourite limerick of all time:
A certain young lady from Crewe,
Got stung in the neck by a hornet.
When asked, did it hurt?
She said, not at all,
It can do it again if it likes.
But why do all these young ladies always come from Crewe? I have this notion that this is why Crewe is a major rail junction. People flock there in their thousands in the vain hope of meeting a certain young lady.
But to return to my German class:
Es gab eine Fräulein aus Crewe…
(Und so weiter…)