Today has been a very interesting day for a variety of reasons. After a cup of tea in bed on a Sunday morning, the bedside radio was tuned to Radio 4 and we started passively listening to the ‘Sunday’ program devoted to religious affairs although the program defines itself broadly. This morning, there was a discussion with funeral directors concerning the most popular pieces of music both requested, and played, at funerals. Some were judged to be somewht inappropriate such as ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’ unless it was very specifically requested by family and friends. This got me wondering what hymns I would like at my own funeral and, as it happens, in church last night before the service started I was glancing through a section at the back of our hymn book which was ‘Hymns for Particular Occasions’ I turned to the section on funerals and found a favourite of mine which was ‘Lead, Kindly Light’ written by John Henry Newman. This is one of the nearest that we have to a local Catholic saint (although there are others associated with Harvington Hall, just down the road from us) The point about this hymn is that the lyrics could easily be transported from one religious ethos or denomination to another and are not particularly mawkish or over sentimalised which can be the problem with Victorian hymns. Searching on the web, I found both an interesting rendition of the hymn sung by the choristers of Arundel cathedral and after not much searching, the sheet music associated with the hymn. This is a fairly simple melody which I can easily practise in my right hand mode and so I may be in a position in a few days time to play on my newly acquired organ one of the hymns that I would to have played at my own funeral. This is all slightly less macabre than might appear at first sight as hymn tunes are fairly simple, not to mention sonorous pieces, and they really do sound better when played with the gravitas of an organ rather than a more tinkly sound of a piano.
We had arranged to meet with our University of Birmingham friend in the park at about 11.00am and, fortunately, the weather brightened a little so we engaged in our Sunday morning chat, visited on our usual bench by a variety of dogs who associated people sitting on benches with titbits. After about half and hour or so, we both went to our house where we had invited our friend round for a traditional lunch of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. Fortunately, I had done some vegetable preparation beforehand and had some onions cooked until they were translucent so that I could quickly prepare an onion gravy. All of this meal worked out just as I wanted – I even located four remaining Yorkshire puddings that were popped in the oven to complement the rest of the dinner. No sooner had the meal been consumed and we had started to think about our post prandial coffee when I received a telephone from one of my ‘oldest’ friends. I use ‘oldest’ in both senses of the word because this lady is now 96 years old and we used to attempt to see each other once a year until the pandemic put paid to all of that. Secondly, we were colleages in the Central Office of Information where we met in 1964 so our friendship goes back practically sixty years. She has now moved from where she used to live on the South Coast to Dorking where she can be so much nearer to her one son (who of course, is now retired, needless to say) Our friend is a most remarkable lady and has an amazingly interesting professional life – at one stage, she had even worked in an office adjacent to Alan Turing but I must remember to ask her if she ever actually met him. Anyway, I regard this as one of my actual links with history. Our friend was a very good pianist before the arthritis got to her a few years ago and I think she has an LRCM Licentiate as a professional qualification. Knowing her proficiency in piano, I told her of my ventures into keyboard instruments first via my Casio keyboard and latterly through my Technics organ, only acquired last Sunday. So I played our friend the only piece of music I have absolutely committed to memory and can play without a fluff which is the Largo from Dvorak’s New World Symphony. Our friend recognised it instantly and sang along with it, as I played which was quite an interesting experience. As soon as we get a telephone call from our friend’s son, I want to organise it so that we can have a meal as soon as we can organise it. In the past, my son and daughter-in-law have enjoyed the past lunches that we have had together in Central London so as soon as we make some practical arrangements and coordinated diaries we will journey along to see our friend as soon as we can. The whole point here is that a 96 year old can be carried away almost by a puff of wind so we are particularly anxious to keep on meeting with each other as long as our health and faculties survive.