Thursday, 18 February 2010

Fly Boy Fly Boy

Today is the first day I’ve been able to dedicate entirely to writing the motet, and I’ve had a tiny breakthrough, which I’m very pleased about. Predictably, it came in the section about the rainbow over the Thames, which for some eccentric reason has become my favourite passage in the entire diary!


350 years ago, Pepys, like me, was devoting a large proportion of his day to music. He started on the vial, apparently his favourite musical instrument, and then learnt how to sing “Fly Boy, Fly Boy” by memory. This song, which was also a round, was first published in 1659 and I suppose it’s likely that Pepys found it in the bumper book of music he'd purchased the week before.

Later in the day, Pepys returned to his former dwellings, a draughty little turret within Montagu’s London residence, where he’d lived with Elizabeth in a great deal of discomfort. In later years, particularly after dalliances with women, he’d write about the room, guiltily lamenting about how much he'd expected of his wife in those days, and how little she'd complained. On the 18th February 1660, he removed a number of his books from the turret and had his maid carry them over to his new house in Axe Yard. This is the first evidence that Pepys was proudly beginning to consolidate his growing library of books.

Later in the day, he drank with friends at the Mitre on Fleet Street. They sat above the music room, and keenly listened to the sounds drifting up from below. He then enjoyed a long conversation about theatre; listing the plays and leading actors he’d seen over the years. Theatre was Pepys’ guilty pleasure and because it was banned by the Puritans, any of the plays he’d seen between 1642 and 1660 would have been watched in secret.

Imagine a time where music and drama weren’t available at the flick of a switch; a time when just discussing theatre or hearing music drifting up from a room below was almost as pleasurable as experiencing it in the flesh.

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