Ties of Love

On Sunday my godson Richard, having married Mark, with whom he has lived for some time, invited us to a party to celebrate their wedding ties. It was in the West End in one of those slightly anomalous spaces, a room upstairs from a restaurant being put to profitable use, knowingly traditional but the coldness of the beer an indication that the tradition was being packaged for sale not to us but to Americans. I was talking to Richard’s father, Michael, and we were saying how agreeable it was that at occasions of this sort it was no longer necessary, as it would have been not so long ago, to wear a tie. Michael was wearing an open-necked shirt and my sweater was black and polo-necked.

Not everyone rates black polo-necked sweaters. Some think them old-fashioned. I first took to them in the early 1960s. I would wear them with crisp grey slacks and hope that people would say that, since I had thick black-framed glasses too, I looked like Manfred Mann, whose first band was then becoming popular. People quite often did. I suppose that that is another way of saying that they are indeed old-fashioned. But I hedge my bets these days: it is a Yohji Yamamoto black polo-necked sweater.

Manfred Mann had hits with Do Way Diddy Diddy and Pretty Flamingo. I liked them partly because of the black polo-necked sweaters and the black glasses and partly because Mike Vickers played Roland Kirk-style flute, which I was attempting to master. We didn’t then realise that Jack Bruce was in the band; he died last year and was probably the greatest rock bassist of them all.

Michael simply doesn’t like wearing a tie. My own feelings are more complex. At one level, ties were part of my uniform for over forty years as a lawyer and it has been nice to put working clothes to one side. Where I work now, ties are only rarely necessary. But there are more disturbing elements to them too. As we chatted, the memory of an encounter flooded back. It took place not a hundred yards from where we were, not in the 1960s, but a decade later, when I had recently started working as a solicitor. I was in a clothes shop trying on a suit. I won’t tell you which shop. It is still there and there are a number of other branches but my encounter was with a man whose name was over the door, although only in the sense that the shop was named after his father, who owned and ran it. I was being served by Young Mr Grace, as it were.

I admired myself in the mirror. One of the glories of the written word is that you can imagine me in a contemporary suit, something sharp but suitable for the office, something by Hugo Boss perhaps, a simple single-breasted coat with a single button, hanging perfectly. In fact, since it was the early 70s, it was an object horrendous to contemplate, with science fiction reveres, assisted shoulders and the trousers flared: David Bowie meets Hepworth’s. But we were not to understand this until later.

I was wearing the shirt and tie that I had worn to the office that morning with my existing suit, which was now resting over the back of a chair.

“Tie,” said Young Mr Grace, as I shall continue to call him.

“I’m suited, thank you very much,” I said.

“No pun intended,” I added.

Young Mr Grace did not laugh. He looked at me intently, and then roughly pulled my tie off.

“Stand still,” he said. “Don’t speak.”

He went to a drawer and returned with three or four in his hand. Again, the historical perspective is important. When I gave up the day job, I threw out a whole assortment of more or less grubby neckwear. I kept two or three only, and they are slim, discreet and elegant. Forty years ago those on offer would have been far bigger and more colourful: you would probably say blowsier. Possibly there was a feel of William Morris. Certainly they were of silk, flowers were depicted on them and they were generously proportioned. Young Mr Grace tied one around my neck. He did not trouble to place it within the collar of my shirt, so that it sat proud, like the scarves that men wore in those days but much plumper. He stood back, admired it and pinched it between finger and thumb, feeling the resistance of the silk.

“Mr G, it’s…”


Very deliberately he tied the other two over the first one. My appearance was that of a Regency dandy, but incontinent in a manner that such a man would never have permitted himself. As he worked away I noticed a line of sweat on Mr Grace’s top lip. Again he stood back.

“Mr G, I …”

“Shut up.”

He sank into the chair on which my suit lay. He seemed exhausted by his efforts and did not bother to avoid creasing it. Indeed, my trousers he simply sat on.

“Ah, ties,” he said. “I can do without sex – and Father would rather that I did – but I could never do without ties. A lovely floral tie like yours, the second one down, lovely yellows, lovely and plump to touch, lovely silk, it makes me come, just like that.”

I glanced at his trousering, but it was impossible to tell whether he spoke figuratively.

With a groan he hauled himself up and staggered away. Glancing round to make sure that I was not observed I removed Mr Grace’s suit and replaced my own. One is never at one’s most assured when wearing someone else’s trousers.

“Mr G!” I called. “The suit?”

“Bugger the suit,” he grunted, from behind a curtain.

When David Cameron and Ed Miliband appear on the television with their neat jackets and their passionless open-necked shirts, this story is one more reason why I despise them.


Wedding Speech

As I mentioned, daughter three and her Alex got married two weekends ago, and I made a speech. I understand that it already being quoted and of course misquoted on Facebook, so I have been encouraged to set the record straight by publishing the full authentic text.

Here it is.

This is the point at which, as the bride’s father, I am expected to regale you with cute but embarrassing tales of her childhood and a few sentiments on the institution of marriage.

Unlike my other three children, whom I met at the age of nothing in Queen Charlotte’s Maternity Hospital, I met Nastasha at the age of thirteen in Balthazar, the restaurant in New York. She was determined not to like me. She ordered a large plate of oysters, which she proceeded to demolish. I think that it was to put me in my place. It certainly succeeded. I had never seen so many oysters eaten with such aplomb by one so young.

Later we got on better.

So I have no reminiscences of her childhood. And that is why it was right – indeed, essential – that Anthony could be here today. Anthony was a huge part of Nastasha’s life before I came on the scene and he still is, and so is his family; it’s good that his sister Attracta is here too, come specially from Ireland.

Eleven years ago I persuaded Dasha to join me in London and Nastasha came too. There was I hope something in it for Dasha, but very little for Nastasha, who was being asked to leave her adopted country, her school, her home and her friends.

But she entered into living in London with a very good grace and she became an enthusiastic part of her new family, a sister to Emily, Will and Rachel and a loving grand-daughter to my mother.

We moved into a new house together a few days after they arrived. I remember it well. It was a nightmare. Dasha got flu and stayed in bed. Nastasha and I scuttled around packing things and unpacking them again and Dasha, who had to be carried bodily out by the Pickfords men, directed us from her bed, in a caring way.

So there were three of us and then, in the wonderful way that these things sometimes happen in families, there were four. The Dog was the fourth. You will have seen him in the church. Unfortunately he cannot be with us here for reasons of health and safety.

In the fullness of time Dasha and Nastasha became subjects of Her Majesty. The Queen was so pleased that she sent a lady called the Deputy Mayor of Islington to welcome them and give them a paperweight. In those days you didn’t have to do the quiz – which is just as well as they would both have argued the toss.

So I missed Nastasha’s childhood, but when she got to London she decided it was time to have her adolescence.

And I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. As most of you know, she is the most loyal of people and the kindest of people and the best company. Again in the way of families, she was often my ally, and sometimes Dasha and I picked on her and more often they both picked on me.

I wouldn’t have missed it for anything, and then she went off to Manchester University.

And there she met Alex.

His immediate appeal to her was of course that, like the Dog, he came from Staffordshire.

To the family he had different qualities: two in particular.

One was being able to fix the computer most of the time.

The other was his habit of arriving for the weekend in enormous borrowed Bentleys and making the neighbours green with envy.

I was glad to discover that Alex loved music and was an occasional music critic. It is important I think that in a marriage at least one of the parties should be able to carry a tune.

Alex is of course an engineer. In many years of professional life I have formed a huge respect for engineers. Like the best lawyers they cut through the bullshit and identify what really matters. But unlike even the best lawyers they can also make things work. I am very proud to have a son-in-law who is an engineer, just as I am to have an engineer father-in-law.

People have asked if I have any advice for Alex. Not really; after all this time he probably has us sussed. But one thing occurred to me. A friend of mine married, as Alex and I did, into a family full of women on whom assertiveness training would be wasted. I asked him how he coped. This was his reply, changing the surname:

When I’m uncertain, I just go and find a female Philippov and do as she says.

I pass it on for what it’s worth.

Finally the institution of marriage. In the church Jonathan and I attempted to play an old Irish song called My Lagan Love. I wanted to play it because it is a lovely tune and I used to play it years ago. I Googled it to remind myself how it goes, and as is the way with Google I found all sorts of stuff that I hadn’t asked for, in addition to the tune, which I hope that you will agree we had under control.

There was a site with music for weddings. There it was on the list, along with For Gawd’s Sake Get Me to the Church on Time. It was marked ‘Very Suitable’.

This was encouraging, so I decided to find out why. Another site has the words, which of course you didn’t get in the church. This is the story:

A man is staring besottedly at a woman through the window of her cottage. She is prodding morosely at a fire of bogwood. You can hear the sound of crickets chirping in her hearth. The crickets are important. Remember the crickets.

So he is a stalker. She is something much worse. She is a leanán sidhe, a malevolent creature of Irish folklore. According to the commentary, the leanán sidhe would make slaves – zombies – of the men who adored her. Finally the man would waste away and die and she would get another.

Why on earth is that ‘Very Suitable’ for a wedding?

It’s particularly unsuitable for Alex and Nastasha, where, so far from any enslaving going on, I know that they divide the household chores between them meticulously.

But the commentary on Google goes on to say that the crickets are a good sign. When people got married, it says, the couple would take for their new hearth crickets from the hearths of their parents’ houses. Now I don’t know whether Tony and Julia have any crickets to spare from their hearth. Islington Council doesn’t allow us to have them, on the grounds of health and safety.

There are some old Wisdens if they’re interested.

But whether crickets, Wisdens or not, from both our households goes much love.

So please raise your glasses to Alex and Nastasha: a long and happy life together!

A Wedding; an Exorcism

Going into the church for the wedding of my lovely daughter three I noticed the dog – who was a page boy – shiver down the entire length of his body. Although the more extreme signs of his Satanism had abated over the last few days, he was clearly not right. I had heard nothing from Uncle Edgerton. Maybe the bad spirit was lying low. More likely the dog, who is very fond of daughter three, had made a supreme effort for her.

He lay there quietly, talking sotto voce with the grand-daughter. Only at two points were there signs of real distress. The first was when my brother and I played appropriate wedding music, and his disquiet may have had less to do with his spiritual allegiance than with his acuteness, as a dog, of pitch. But the second was when Father J stressed that this was not a secular occasion but a sacrament, and then he shivered again.

Afterwards we went on to the venue chosen for the reception, from which he was barred on the grounds of health and safety – barred as a dog, curiously, rather than as a creature possessed by a devil. The venue, to give credit where due, was The Canonbury in Islington, and they do a good spread, with lovely surroundings and food far above the normal standard of bulk catering.

Everything went very well, few people sat there swallowing their lips, and the only really sad thing was when the grand-daughter’s red balloon became detached from its attractively decorated string and set off for Germany. For a bit she was inconsolable.

Daughter two was a bridesmaid, without Parrott on this occasion but with her boyfriend Dan, another treasure-hunter. She whispered to me that she was standing by to be summoned whenever she was needed.

The time came for me to make a speech as the bride’s father. I stood up clutching my notes and surveying the sea of rubicund faces with some dismay. Would they be quiet? Just as I was about to embark on my first well-rounded aphorism a woman lurched into me. It was my brutal cousin Ella, from Denmark.

But – you weren’t invited…

Saved from speaking in the nick of time, said P2, and The Canonbury in Islington faded away.

You’ve been busy, said my Uncle Edgerton admiringly to P2, as the dog, daughter two and Parrot arrived a moment later. Daughter two and Parrot were soaking wet, daughter two in a wetsuit. I noticed that P2 was also wet through. Presumably she had had to venture under water to fetch daughter two and Parrot.

Whisked away just as we were closing in on treasure, said daughter two. Good wedding though last week. Enjoyed every minute.

Pieces of eight, said Parrot.

‘Last week…’. When did the dog come from, I wondered. He seemed anyway to be taking to the 1930s with his usual aplomb.

Only then did I notice another figure in the room, a vague tweeded man in middle age with a clerical collar.

Did you ever meet my brother Winthrop?

Uncle Winthrop! Of course I remembered him from my childhood. In the 1950s he was what is now called a person with Alzheimer’s and then senile. Retired early from the priesthood, he was kept impeccably tweeded and dog-collared by his wife but was incapable of getting a coherent sentence out. We loved to torment him. A real adult was a rare victim in those days. But Winthrop survived the War and Edgerton didn’t. That was not a discussion that I wanted to get into and I suspect that Edgerton didn’t either. I said nothing.

Can do it without a priest, but best with.

Uncle Winthrop squatted down by the dog and whispered to him in Latin. The dog responded in the same language. Both spoke in reasonable measured tones, sizing each other up.

If you have read the exorcism scene in Stella Gibbons’ masterpiece Starlight you would expect as I did to be in for the long haul; a trial of strength; the priest trying patiently to coax the spirit out, the spirit cornered and resisting. I settled back to watch. My second concern was whether good would triumph; my main one was whether the dog would survive.

As it turned out, it wasn’t like that.

Uncle Winthrop ran his hands over the dog’s coat. The dog bridled.

I say, he said, in English. What’s this here, under his skin?

I felt where he indicated.

It’s a little transmitter. Or receiver. Where he was indentichipped. By Battersea.

No, no. That’s on his shoulder. (In the weeks that followed I often wondered about that remark.) This one.

It felt exactly the same to me.

It’s no spirit, said Uncle Winthrop. He’s being controlled remotely through this. Satanists do that, especially in the Twenty-first Century.

Guessed as much, said Uncle Edgerton.

The liar.

With a speed surprising in one so vague, Uncle Winthrop, pulled a pen-knife from one of his pockets, nicked the dog’s fur and pulled out the tiny bug. With a speed surprising in one so mangy, Parrot seized it, swallowed it and flew away into the 1930s – a seabird possessed.

The dog turned on Uncle Winthrop a face briefly full of love, and the scenery vanished.

Half-way through an aphorism is no place to re-enter, and, as last time, I staggered slightly.

Give the old bugger another drink, shouted a raucous cousin.

I swallowed hard and returned to my theme: meditations on the institution of marriage illustrated by anecdotes from daughter three’s earlier life. I noticed daughter two, her face perfectly innocent. She still had the trip to look forward to.

I had wondered when the dog had been summoned from. When we got home it was apparent that it was not yet. He had chewed two plugs, one of them in situ, and vomited on my favourite Belochistani rug. When I entered the room he belched loudly and declaimed the last few verses of the Lord’s Prayer, backwards and in rather approximate Latin.

The denouement came a couple of days later. We were walking round the block when he staggered, and then looked at me with the look of love the start of which I had seen addressed to Uncle Winthrop. I squatted down by him and kissed his furry forehead.

He whispered to me, When I was under the control of Satan I was a bad dog, but now I’m a good dog again.

You are a good dog again.

And so he was.

Three days later daughter two rang me.

You owe me an otter, she said.


Daughter three and her Alex are getting married in September. They will do so at our wonderful local church, which is Venetian in architecture and Anglo-Catholic in style. People say that the Church of England is on the skids, but I cannot help noticing that our church has a choice of at least three thurifers. One of them can make the thurible describe a complete circle in the air, though only, like the wall of death, having worked up to it.

I don’t know if daughter three and her Alex will be having a thurifer for their wedding. We have discussed – and the discussions continue extensively – invitations, dresses, flowers and the wider questions of the reception afterwards, but not whether and if so how to cense.

Alex is a retired Roman Catholic and daughter three was brought up under Soviet communism and its aftermath. ‘Religion is the opium of the people’ was Karl Marx’s view and the good people charged with the care of the Soviet Union saw no reason to disagree, even up to my daughter’s time. Poor grumpy old Karl, trundling myopically between Clerkenwell, Soho and the British Museum Reading Room, getting so much wrong; one can imagine him pressing his hairy old face to the windows of the fashionable houses of the Lloyd Baker Estate, watching parties to which he had not been invited and concluding enviously that the bourgeoisie had their wives in common.

He wished!

Mr Lee, from another standpoint, also objects to the phrase ‘the opium of the people’. At his prices, he says, ‘the people’ have nothing to do with it.

Anyway, the consequence of their being brought up respectively under Soviet communism and the rule of the Bishop of Rome is that when daughter three and Alex were asked what hymns they wanted for their wedding they were lost for words. I was sent to my old copy of the English Hymnal (that extraordinary achievement by Ralph Vaughan Williams, who didn’t entirely believe in God but did believe passionately in people who weren’t professionals making music together) and told to come up with a shortlist.

Most hymns date from the Nineteenth Century and fall into the category, which they share with a lot of Victorian art, technically known as barking mad. This may be good or bad. There are however a lot of very good hymns that are quite unsuitable for weddings.

My first thought, as I imagine most people’s would be, was For Those in Peril on the Sea.

Then The Day Thou Gavest, Lord, is Ended. It’s an excellent choice for a funeral; less so for a wedding.

I rejected

A servant with this clause
Makes drudgerie divine:
Who sweeps a room, as for thy laws,
Makes that and th’ action fine

as unnecessarily contentious. Daughter three and Alex divide their household duties with meticulous fairness and would resent any divine interference.

I recalled a fragment from a hymn that always haunted me when I was a child:

Through gates of pearl streams
In the countless host

The countless host I could fit into a world view. It was a sort of communion wafer that was unconstrained by the laws of physics: consubstantial, co-eternal while unending ages run and so on. I could also envisage the pearl streams, within the compass of the enormous wafer, like a late Salvador Dali painting. They would be bright and bubbling but deep enough to accommodate pearl divers and the concomitant oysters. It was the gates I had difficulty imagining. Forty years later I suddenly realised what it was meant to mean. I had been thrown by the wholly misplaced emphasis put by the tune onto the word ‘In’. Maybe the hymn was written by a weather girl.

Saint Patrick’s Breastplate, I suggested:

Against all Satan’s spells and wiles
Against false words of heresy
Against the knowledge that defiles
Against the heart’s idolatry,
Against the wizard’s evil craft
Against the death wound and the burning
The choking wave, the poisoned shaft
Protect me, Christ, till thy returning

They looked thoughtful. I realised that more investigation was called for.

A lot of hymns fall into the category portrayed in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life:

Priest: Gosh, we’re all really impressed down here, I can tell You.
Congregation: Gosh, we’re all really impressed down here, I can tell You.

For example, in All People that on Earth Do Dwell:

The Lord, y’know, is God indeed

And what does that actually mean? It seems to me to be perfectly circular. If he, she or it is ‘the Lord’ then he, she or it is by definition God indeed – and if not, not. It goes without saying.

It’s like the Jibjab Woman, who, now that she is in preproduction, is starting to take on the characteristics of a real person. Every time I see her, without fail, she tells me that God is great.

Well, he would be.

All People that on Earth Do Dwell is a strange hymn anyway. All the words are in the wrong order:

All People that on earth do dwell
Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice
Him serve with fear, his praise foretell
Come ye before Him and rejoice

It can be strangely moving though, when sung.

Then to confuse things further Alex announced that he didn’t want anything sentimental and certainly nothing about Love.

I’ve found a good manly hymn. It’s usually sung at the feast of Sexagesima, but that needn’t matter:

Arabia’s desert ranger
To him shall bow the knee;
The Ethiopian stranger
His glory come to see;
With offerings of devotion
Ships from the isles shall meet,
To pour the wealth of ocean
In tribute at his feet

Just the thing.

wedding music

At the weekend my goddaughter Hannah married her fiancé Brett and we went to their wedding in Milford-on-Sea. You can see the pictures on Facebook if you know either her present or her previous surname. While they signed the register my brother Jonathan played the bagpipes: the Leicestershire bagpipes, whose history and authenticity are rather tendentious. Later he told me that he had chosen some obscure tunes, presumably so that the wedding guests would not sigh and say to each other, Not that old warhorse of the Leicestershire bagpipes repertory again.

I thought back to occasions when I had provided occasional music for weddings. It started badly. My first time involved playing Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring on the flute. The room where the register was to be signed was small and the bride’s mother was enormous. She lurched into my music stand, swept the music to the floor and trampled on it. If ever asked again I resolved to busk.

My favourite weddings have been my own and my daughter’s but the other occasion when I provided music is not far behind. It was in the west of Ireland, where I then had a house. Deirdre was marrying Mike the Bike. Deirdre was Irish, from an immensely proud family, steeped in Celtic culture and the Irish struggle for independence. Mike was from Newcastle. They were to marry in a tiny church on an island in a lake. It was too tiny to have an organ or a piano and I was to play the flute.

The families sat warily, each side of the aisle. Deirdre’s family, notwithstanding the ancestral weight of Irish culture, turned out not to be Catholic, and dithered through the responses and the bobbing up and down, which the Newcastle people performed with cold efficiency.

I played a mixture of things that I had made up and some old tunes. When the couple walked down the aisle at the end I played the Scottish march The Boy’s Farewell to his Dragon, not because it was obscure but because I had it from Hamish Moore’s wonderful record Stepping on the Bridge and I liked it. It all went quite well.

The reception was to be in Kenmare and we drove there, stopping at every pub on the way, which is an old Irish tradition, apparently. Then there was champagne, the meal, the speeches and so on, and after that the celebration proper got going. The wedding party had grown since the twenty or so people in the tiny church and now filled a sizeable hotel. I wandered from room to room, still clutching my old wooden flute, which I had not been prepared to entrust to the hotel cloakroom.

In one room Jimmy Bergin and his band were playing. He is a very fine musician; I met him years later when we both played on Tim Goulding’s CD Midnight Fry. I had a top ten hit in Germany once, he said. It was called Some Cunt Nuked my Village.

In another room was Tim Goulding himself, whom I hadn’t then met but who became a friend later. He was improvising ruminatively to himself on an available piano. I joined in, eventually resolving into a tune with which he joined. After it was over he asked, kindly but not entirely unpatronisingly, Is that your favourite tune? Hard to say, I said; I just found it.

At about one or two in the morning the local musicians arrived, having finished their paid gigs for the evening and come on to jam. One of them was Seamus Creagh. Seamus was a most elegant fiddle player. He was also, as I was shortly to discover, a gentleman. He died in 2009, much too young. He was sitting there by himself playing away, surrounded by an audience that veered between respectful and adoring. My friend Charlie Tyrrell seized me by the shoulders and thrust me through this audience, shouting, Get the flute player a chair.

As he thrust me forward he deposited the main part of a pint of Guinness onto my linen suit and I arrived nervous and soaked.

Sometimes everything comes together and this time it did. We knew each other’s tunes and played beautifully. It was partly luck and largely Seamus’s sensitivity, but it was good. It isn’t by any means always. After half an hour or so we shook hands and I went on my way. Give up the day job, Charlie shouted.

Deirdre’s father came up to me, a Yeatsian gleam in his eye. That music, he said, is the true Irish soul. You English wouldn’t understand.

Yes, I said, but it was me playing it, not you.

He turned away with a massive and contemptuous shrug.

Charlie incidentally came to my own wedding some years later and towards the end we noticed that a crowd of Irish people had crashed it, with Charlie’s assistance. I think that it’s one of the best compliments I have ever had.

At four or five tiredness set in and I decided to drive home. A German lady cadged a lift. She sang a song that she rendered without irony and at the top of her voice as Hey Mr Tangerine Man and she stroked my thigh absent-mindedly. Several times we had to stop so that she could pee, which was a performance as she had voluminous hippy skirts. I remember her squatted down on the cliffs, a lot of brocady material and the occasional alarming flash of very white skin, as the sun came up.

The wedding went on for days, and people drifted back to the village throughout the following week, with many more heroic tales to tell.

Party Tapes

The other day the better half and I recorded ten years of being married to each other. We celebrated with an intimate service in the local C of E church and then returned home to drink champagne and eat salmon coulibiac with our son, daughters and a small selection of friends, distinguished mainly by their ability to skive off during the working afternoon. The sun shone and it was all most agreeable.

Ten years ago it was on a larger scale. We did it in the Orthodox Cathedral in Knightsbridge, with gold crowns and with the appropriate music, because Fr. Michael Fortunato, who married us, knows more about Russian liturgical choral music than anyone else. The bridesmaids wore Alexander McQueen, though some would have preferred not to. Afterwards in The London Sketch Club there was gypsy music. The sun did not however shine, and the better half and my father in law were an hour late to the cathedral, the hired Bentley getting stuck in Friday-evening traffic. The photographer was convinced that I had been jilted and took photographs of everything that he could lay his eyes on so as not to lose his fee.

I wanted to have music this time round too and I reverted to the habits of adolescence and made party tapes.

There was a tape, or rather an iPod playlist, for church: Purcell’s music for The Prophetess to come in to, Peter Philips’ O Quam Suavis Est half way through and Gerry Mulligan quartet music to leave to. The son now makes his way in a world where a miscalculation of quarter of an inch means that it is your head cutlassed into the sea and not the other fellow’s, and so he wielded the remote with dead-eyed calculation – but at the same time with the respect appropriate to the religious surroundings.

There was another playlist for when we got home. I took considerable trouble with this. These were the conditions that I set for myself:

• Alphabetical order by song title: an a-causal connecting principle
• Nothing classical
• Nothing that anyone would have to stop talking and listen to
• But music to intrigue
• Not music to sing along to
• Nothing very slow or very fast
• No shame in being old, and nothing new (or anything else) for the sake of balance
• No more than two pieces by any one musician

The last condition was achieved only by treating the Beatles and George Harrison as entirely separate, and the third (and sixth) by including Hey Bulldog but not Strawberry Fields Forever.

The resulting compilation lasted for four and a bit hours. There were changes up to the last minute. The day before, the better half asked what I had been doing while she had been cooking salmon coulibiac, and polishing the house and her Lanvin dress. I told her. Well we can put it in the kitchen, she said thoughtfully, so no one will have to hear it.

I liked it anyway and one or two people said that they’d like to hear it again properly. So I gave it a lot more constructive thought and decided that I would reduce it savagely, to a single CD’s worth, a bit over an hour.

All the jazz went: Mingus, Jazz Messengers, Johnny Dodds (Louis Armstrong had offended condition 3).

Most of the more thoughtful pieces went too.

This is how the reduced version came out:

Abide With Me: Thelonious Monk (but not jazz)
Anybody Wanna: Del Castillo
Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: George Harrison
Bottle of Smoke: The Pogues
Bring it on Down to My House: Willy Nelson & Asleep at the Wheel
Don’t Go Dancin: C W Stoneking
Falling Angels: Hank Wangford
G-Man Hoover: Van Dyke Parks
Georgie on a Spree: Richard & Linda Thompson
Goodnight Irene: Ry Cooder
Hames and Traces: Dr Strangely Strange
Hesitation Blues: Willy Nelson & Asleep at the Wheel
Hey Bulldog: The Beatles
I’m a Believer: Robert Wyatt (it would have been Davy Jones, had I known)
It’s All Over Now: Ry Cooder
Let the Monkey Drive: Sparks
P2 Vatican Blues (Last Saturday Night): George Harrison
See Emily Play: Nashville Super Pickers
Travelling Light: The Deighton Family
Walkin’ One and Only: Maria Muldaur
Watson’s Blues: David Grisman & Tony Rice

I’m not sure that it makes much of a programme, but I like to listen to it.

And there are probably conclusions to be drawn, but not by me.

The dog was upset that Frank Zappa’s “Dog Breath, in the Year of the Plague”, a personal favourite, was excluded. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that it wasn’t even on the long list.

Our friend Ian, with whom in the 1970s I collaborated in reviewing records, for money, was there. By dint of writing an excellent book about conspiracies (Conspiracy! 49 Reasons to doubt, 50 Reasons to Believe, unanimously five-starred on Amazon and there’s a conspiracy in itself) he has been invited by a radio station to do what amounts to Desert Island Discs. This must be the pinnacle of the ambition of any list-making music lover. I am very jealous. I don’t think that our lists have any songs in common. His rules are different so he can and does have Strawberry Fields Forever, which I agree with him is the best single ever.