Friday, 30 April 2010

I'll give you fine beavers

This morning I went to Cecil Sharp House in Camden, which is the official home of the British folk scene. It’s situated, appropriately, in a rather grand “arts and crafts” style building around the corner from Regent’s Park. I’d only ever been there once before, on that occasion to a barn dance, which was, you know... rock and roll. Today I was visiting their wonderful library, trying to locate a few Yorkshire-based folk melodies which might work in the symphony. The mousey librarian looked like a reject from Steeleye Span, but was incredibly kind and brilliantly helpful, introducing me to the work of Frank Kidson, one of those bicycle riding bohemians who collected, transcribed and saved folk songs in the early 20th Century. Much of his work was done in Yorkshire, which made his collections perfect for me, particularly as he seems to have unearthed some absolute gems, which I took great delight in copying out. None of them was particularly cheery, however. When you analyse folk songs, they’re all either; “a cumly, honest maid sat on my knee in the merry month of may way hey” which can get a bit mind-numbing or “he took a knife and buried it in her heart and the blood trickled into a basin, a basin, fidili dee di do”. The latter type is always much more entertaining, but not exactly cheery or appropriate for a work of celebration. I also found a lovely folksong which was frankly destroyed by the line; "I'll give you fine beavers". I think we could all do without that...

In the afternoon, after skipping like a girl at the gym, I retired to our loft to do some writing. We have a sort of unofficial conversion up there where we keep most of our books and musical instruments. It’s a dusty, dark, atmospheric sort of place. You’d expect to find it at the top of a secret staircase in a book by E Nesbit. There’d be a spinning wheel of some sort up there, and a doll crying tears of blood. Well, possibly not in the E Nesbit version. It gets too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter, but about this time of year, it’s the perfect place to sit and stare into shafts of sunlight whilst waiting for the muse to make her entrance. She came in abundance today, so quickly and effortlessly, in fact that I’m worried I’ll wake up tomorrow morning to discover I’ve re-written Jerusalem!

Pepys was playing ninepins on this date 350 years ago, and his beginners luck had run out, for he lost 5 shillings a-piece to each of his opponents, which seems like a preposterously large amount to have gambled. In the afternoon, he went ashore to Deal. He described the fields as being very pretty, but wrote that the town was “pitiful” probably after a hugely disappointing trip to a "famous" ale house, "renowned" for its variety, but on this date only serving what was hanging around in a giant vat.

Pepys left the town, probably in a huff, and went back to the fleet, where he gate-crashed another ship, The Assistance and was treated to some harp music by a musician the captain was keeping on board specifically for the purpose. Pepys was extremely taken with the grace of the music. A fact which was made all the more bizarre by the look of the man who was playing; "a drunken simple fellow to look on as any I ever saw"

Back on the Nazeby, the evening descended into utter chaos in the Lieutenant’s cabin. Much alcohol was consumed, and then by all accounts, lobbed around the room, destroying countless items of clothing and no doubt wrecking the curtains and carpets! At one point, Pepys’ velvet studying cap became a tankard, which probably says it all! He went to bed as pissed as a fart!

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