What is it that makes us …

…who we are? I read with interest in the August edition of GRAPEVINE magazine (www.luccagrapevine.com), that expats in the Bagni di Lucca area near Lucca can now purchase their gourmet reminders of the old country through the enterprising Paolo and his Catene Café. Thinking about this caused me to reflect on a simple, yet highly complex question: What makes us who we are?

The population of this ancient island of Britannia is a distillation of many national origins – who can say they are “English” with any clear understanding of what “English” is, any more than someone in Italy can easily define themselves as “Italian”? Despite this, we all feel something inside us that makes us feel we belong somewhere. On my many trips to La Bella Italia I have always felt very much at home; even on my first trip, when my then embryonic Italian language skills were put to the test, I felt comfortable in a land of strangers. Perhaps this is because of being uno straniero myself in someone else’s backyard?

So, what triggers a feeling of “home”? Expat Australians can be moved to tears by the smell of eucalyptus leaves; South Africans munch their biltong and Brits long for a good cup of tea or even the taste of Marmite. Why do I go to an Italian family-run restaurant in the Weald of Kent, and feel so relaxed surrounded by the taste and sounds of Italy? I am not Italian. Why do I feel so proud conducting my forty-strong concert band playing God Save the Queen? Is it because I am British? On the other hand, why am I so moved by hearing Inno di Mamelli?  I am not Italian, but would be quite happy to become an expat in Italy.

What is it, therefore, that takes someone out of the land of their birth, but seems unable to take the land of their birth out of them?

In Britannia, things often seem to be less than ideal. Perhaps it might be the weather – what other country makes an art out of turning the sun-starved failed tomato crop into green tomato chutney? Or perhaps it might be the perceived dithering indecision of those at the helm. One of the larger political parties is currently in search of a new leader, but the candidates’ vision for the future of the nation seems to be as uniform as the typical weather – shades of indifferent grey.

For me, the only true voice of Britannia is the great music of Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Parry: music that stirs the soul and reminds us of a glorious past that was definitely better than the present – or was it? Could it be an invention of the collective imagination that this was ever the case? What drove the expats to become just that; what makes us look for greener grass on the other side of the path? What makes us seek for a remembered “better” time?

We are currently remembering the carnage of the First World War and the anniversary of the Battle of Britain in the Second War. Recently, Italians have commemorated the appalling massacre of more than 500 civilians in the Tuscan village of Sant’Anna di Stazzema in August, 1944. These were hardly better times than the present. Perhaps the important thing is to hang on to the memories and try to make the best of the here and now.

Even the potholes that littered Britannia’s over-taxed roads after the recent bad winter weather are slowly being filled in, so that now suddenly seems a little better than then.

Therein might lie the secret – sit back and enjoy your cup of expat PG Tips whilst you savour a Hobnob or sink your teeth into a slice of Marmite-smothered toast. It’s the simple things in life that really count, even in the embrace of your adopted land.

Speaking of simple things, it’s amazing how excited you can make someone just by giving them a book!

Roberta in the Tuorist Information office in Lucca.

Roberta with her copy of FEELINGS OF GUILT in the tourist information office in Lucca.

Mind you, it does make a difference when that person is the model for one of the minor characters in that book. Meet Roberta, an extremely competent operative in the tourist information office in Lucca. I met her on my first visit to the city and, with the passage of time, her persona became the inspiration for one of the characters in my “An Eccentric in Lucca” series of novels. Very recently, she was given a signed copy of the second novel in the series and burst into tears…that’s so Italian!

Tanti saluti da l’antica isola!

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Why do we remember…

…and what is it that makes other remember us? Do others remember us, or do they remember the events with which we might have been associated?

I remember being very moved by visiting the sea of over 800,000 ceramic red poppies installed in the moat of the Tower of London in the months before Armistice Day (November 11th) last year, the centenary of The Great War. Every year we of the East Grinstead Concert Band (EGCB) perform a concert (or two) in aid of Service charities – complete with the standard of the local British Legion Club, the two minutes silence and the playing of “Sunset”, Green’s famous setting of the bugle call signifying the lowering of the colours at the end of the day, movingly played by our excellent trumpet section).

Lowering the standard during the playing of "SUNSET" during last year's Poppy Appeal Concert in East Grinstead.

Lowering the standard during the playing of “SUNSET” during last year’s Poppy Appeal Concert in East Grinstead.

Are there any individuals known to us from past conflicts to remember individually (time marches relentlessly on!), or are we remembering the event? During a recent trip to Eire (and being impressed, as usual, by the friendliness of the Irish people), we took in what I dubbed the “Lusitania Route”, from the Old Head of Kinsale (from where people watched the liner sinking only some 8 miles off the shore, after she was torpedoed by U-20) to the monument and mass graves in Cobh (old Queenstown), which was always the last port of call in the Old World for the Cunard and the White Star Liners, before the New World loomed across the expanse of the North Atlantic.

The original memorial to LUSITANIA on the harbour front in Cobh.

The original memorial to LUSITANIA on the harbour front in Cobh.

The renowned maritime artist Ken Marschall’s detailed paintings can be viewed here:  www.maritimequest.com

RMS Lusitania under full steam in her pre-war livery.

RMS Lusitania under full steam in her pre-war livery.

I arranged the Mariners’ Hymn (quite chromatic, so some good sight reading practice) and EGCB will play this the night before the centenary of the sinking on May 7th, 1915. We marked the 103rd anniversary of the loss of Titanic in the same way. Collectively, millions of faceless people unknown to almost all of us, yet we pause to remember them.

And then something comes out of the blue to focus remembrance on someone I certainly did know. I recently received a communication from the head of the Music Conservatorium of Mauritius, enquiring as to whether or not it would be possible for them to exhibit my grandfather’s baton in a proposed museum of Mauritian Musical Culture in Port Louis. Well, to say that I was speechless and filled almost to bursting point with pride is putting things very mildly. I hold my grandfather in high regard for his musical prowess (mentioned in previous blogs) and would like to think that my musical genes – if such things exist – have been inherited from him. I have a framed photo of him standing in front of his Mauritius Police Force Band on my desk. The baton was given to him by the residents of Port Louis, in appreciation of musical services rendered. I read the inscription and there was his name and the date – 1923; also getting on for a century. He never used the baton, as it is rather heavy.

Part of the dedication inscribed on a gold band on the baton.

Part of the dedication inscribed on a gold band on the baton.

This month saw the annual London Book Fair (LBF), held this year in the expanse of London’s Olympia exhibition centre. We survived the train trip to London (in my opinion always an over-priced nightmare of an experience!) and saw my books displayed on the Book Guild stand.  Good to see Graham flying the flag for us independent authors again.

 

With Graham Robinson on the Book guild stand. All four of the books published so far nicely displayed in the background!

With Graham Robson on the Book Guild stand. All four of the books published so far nicely displayed in the background!

I met Ian McFadyen at last year’s LBF and was pleased to see that his fifth novel is due for release later this year – KILLING TIME. Great cover and another success from Keiran of the Book Guild art department. Everything is still rocking – as they say – in the book world.

In a couple of weeks I’ll be going on a trip to Aubers and Ieper (Ypres) with the Wadhurst Brass Band to commemorate the centenary of the Battle of Aubers Ridge in the First World War. Wadhurst is twinned with the town of Aubers and several men from the area were casualties of the Royal Sussex Regiment. I was commissioned by the band to compose a march suitable for the occasion, which will have its world première (!!) at a concert in Wadhurst shortly. Again, the tour will be a voyage of Remembrance for people unknown to most, if not all of us. During the recent Irish trip, we visited the town of Templemore in County Tipperary. Nice little place and the local hostelry does a mean cabbage in Irish butter for lunch! Anyway, having parked, we wandered around the main square and came across a memorial to the men of the Royal Munster Regiment who fought in the First War. There was a picture of the Reverend Francis Gleeson, (a chaplain in the British army (this was before Irish independence)), blessing the troops before – can you credit this? – the Battle of Aubers Ridge!

 Fortunino Matania's painting of Father Francis Gleeson (1884–1959), Blessing the Royal Munster Fusiliers at Rue du Bois, before the Battle of Aubers Ridge.

Fortunino Matania’s painting of Father Francis Gleeson (1884–1959), Blessing the Royal Munster Fusiliers at Rue du Bois, before the Battle of Aubers Ridge.

Small world or what?

As I said, my march, AUBERS RIDGE  is a commission from the Wadhurst Brass Band to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Aubers Ridge on May 9th, 1915. The Royal Sussex Regiment suffered heavy losses during the battle and the march is dedicated to the memory of those who did not return, especially the men of Wadhurst.

Musically, the march is built around the musical interval found at the beginning of the Last Post and is mostly in the minor key. There are musical references to French (La Marseillaise) and British (God Save the King) forces, as well as a quotation from Ward-Higgs’ Sussex By the Sea, which became the [unofficial, as far as I am aware] regimental march. The march ends quietly with the strains of Reveille. Lest we forget.

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Another Christmas…

…has come and gone, hotly followed by the New Year festivities. So here we go again, Christmas cards put away and the [minimal] decorations carefully stored until the next time. Hopefully, the endless attempts of seemingly increasingly desperate retailers, continually telling us (or is that actually pleading with us?) to celebrate the event by buying this or that over-priced piece of the unessential will also join the crumpled and discarded outer wrappings of presents in the rubbish bins. Don’t get me wrong: the recently past period is supposed to be one of giving, but has our over-commercialized modern Society managed to get something very seriously wrong with the way they approach things?

I recently watched two TV programs that made me sit and think. The first one was about the Kinshasa Symphony Orchestra in the Democratic Republic of Congo. That was inspirational, due to the efforts of their musical director (a retired pilot) and the citizens of Kinshasa, many of whom live in the most abject poverty, and who regularly survive their day on the promise of rehearsing music in the evening, often on home-made instruments. Repertoire ranges from original compositions to the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves and Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, both with choir (taught using sol-fa).

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The healing power of music…

 

Even more inspiring was the second program, which showed the re-establishment of a National Music School in Kabul. Again, this was due to the efforts of a single Afghan, who had been trained at the Moscow Conservatory before the Taliban vacuum descended on the blighted country. Some of the pupils learn their music during the day and then sell plastic bags in the markets to make ends meet. And we in the West are told that we simply have to have this or that unnecessary extravagance for Christmas…

Our extravagance for Christmas was to go back to Brugge for three days. Great time – got some writing done, but ever so cold – not that that put the locals off their street festivities and markets for a single second! They had erected a huge ice rink in the Groote Markt, where the Band had played in October. Lights everywhere, but being Belgium I suppose that they were all environmentally friendly and emitted but the smallest of carbon footprints…otherwise the electricity bill must have been horrendous!

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Groote Markt and intrepid skaters in Brugge at Christmas.

This May the Wadhurst Brass Band are off on a tour to Aubers in France. Wadhurst is twinned with Aubers and there were 25 men from the village, members of the Royal Sussex Regiment, lost in the Battle of Aubers Ridge in 1916. Following on from our short break in Brugge, we crossed into France and visited the town to get a handle on the place before the tour. On a very cold and frosty mid-morning we visited the Aubers Ridge British Cemetery; the wind chill factor would have frozen a windjammer going around Cape Horn and the grass was so frosty it was like walking on a crème brûlée. It was sobering to see so many graves marked simply “A Soldier of the Great War”; I subsequently found out that of the 25 Wadhurst casualties, only 2 were ever positively identified.

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Aubers Ridge British Cemetery near Aubers, France. So many of the graves contain unidentified casualties of the bloody Battle of Aubers Ridge in 1916.

We then went on to Thiepval in France to visit the Thiepval Memorial and pay respects to some of the dead and missing of the Battle of the Somme. It was bad enough walking around in temperatures that were even colder than they had been at Aubers, but it was even worse when we stopped to consider those in the trenches in this area a century ago. They had no option but to sit and wait – at least we could get back into the car and turn the heater on! By the time we encountered the chaos at the British border control at the Channel Tunnel nearly 2 hours later, my feet were still freezing, and that was with two thick pairs of socks on. That in itself focused the mind on the women’s groups who sat and knitted socks for the Boys in the trenches all through the First War. Having experienced a brief taste of how cold it can get there, those socks must have been a welcome sight to those lucky enough to receive them!

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Thiepval Memorial in France. 300 British and 300 French war dead and another 72,000 names of the missing from the Battle of the Somme engraved on the memorial. It was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and was built between 1928 and 1932. It is the largest British battle memorial in the world and was inaugurated by the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) in August ,1932.

And to finish off this Seasonal Dispatch, we are now informed that something like £17 million of UK “Foreign aid” funds have been siphoned off with his usual flair by President Zuma of South Africa to build himself a modest little pondok suitable to his station! Thinking back to where we had just been – and the freezing cold – it raised the question as to whether or not the cemeteries and memorials had actually been worth the losses that caused them to be established in the first place? The residents of those places went off with a belief in the cause of right, as they saw it. These days, politicians are [generally] simply obsessed with preserving their [in my opinion] worthless continued existence. The bully is still in the corner to where he was driven at least twice during the twentieth century. Further afield, corruption has been raised to the level of a university degree! With an election due here in May, and their cushy jobs and all the rest of it at stake, nobody in Parliament is going to bother to question why so much hard-earned UK taxpayers’ aid money can be so easily miss-spent on one man’s folly at the other end of the world; they’ll be far too busy with domestic issues, telling those who can’t avoid listening to their feeble bleating that the other side is far worse than they are!

Meanwhile, for South Africa it was a bleak day indeed when the moderating hand of a great humanist and visionary was finally stilled in December of 2013. One shudders what is in store for the country without the positive influence and shadow of Madiba.

Time, which is a true constant, will tell.

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Time flies…

…when you’re having fun – or so the saying goes.

I was more than just a little surprised this week to find that my first novel (the third is due for release in the next few days) was released upon an unexpecting and largely indifferent literary world a little more than a year ago. Truth be told, it feels one hell of a lot longer. Over this short period, FATAL TEARS and ERRANT ANGELS (shortly to be joined by FEELINGS OF GUILT and by THE GERHSOM SCROLL in February, 2015) have continued to make their way through the minefield of publishing. Hardly surprising that I should use such a metaphor, as there are so many new titles around these days – not to mention the plethora of older, established works cunningly disguised behind newly-designed covers – that a new author has a daunting task to climb the mountain towards the point of recognition in some form or other.

Thanks to Kieran of The Book Guild art and design department - another great cover that captures the essence of the novel !

Thanks to Kieran of The Book Guild art and design department – another great cover that captures the essence of the novel !

When I first read of the idea of filling the moat of the Tower of London with a sea of ceramic poppies, I have to confess to thinking it all sounded more than just a little tacky and symptomatic of what, to me, seems the directionless morass of 21st century British Society. Having recently enjoyed a very successful band tour to Belgium (more on that in a moment), and mindful of the significance of the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, I, like nearly one million other people, made the journey to go and have a look. It seemed to me that most of these other million people decided to go and see the poppies all on the same day that I had chosen: the tube to Tower Hill Station just about coped; how anyone wasn’t run over at the pedestrian crossing outside the Tower itself and how so many people squeezed into the area adjacent to the moat without some fatal crushing incident resulting, I do not know!

The field of ceramic poppies that fills the moat of the Tower of London. An appropriate memorial to the dead of World War 1.

The field of ceramic poppies that fills the moat of the Tower of London. An appropriate memorial to the dead of World War 1.

Even before I managed to get a reasonable view of the poppies, I had drastically changed my mind about the whole thing. It seemed to radiate a sea of red and black calm amidst the heaving mass of humanity that had assembled to view it, largely in a respectful silence. That was surprising, considering the numbers of visitors. The moat was filled with 888,246 poppies, each one representing one British military fatality from the war. There was a moving sombreness to it all.

The ceramic poppies "pour" out of the Tower and fill the entire moat.

The ceramic poppies “pour” out of the Tower and fill the entire moat.

All will be dismantled after Remembrance Day (11th November) and each poppy will then be sent to whoever has purchased it, at a cost of £25 each (I’ll leave you to do the maths!). The good news is that they have all been sold and the funds raised will be shared amongst Service charities.

The whole experience raised two thoughts: firstly, one hundred years on and we are still inhabiting a world torn apart in one form or another – possibly not quite to the same extent as in 1914, although these days dissent can often be far more subtle and often does necessarily involve the use of guns; secondly, each one of those poppies is an anonymous reminder of service and duty. Who knows who poppy 102,345 represents, any more than we do number 94,368? Surely the most important thing is that we do remember and – despite the enormous scale and extent of the poppy field – that we do so in a typically British understated way: no glitz, no razzmatazz, no fanfare. Just Remembrance.

And that bring me back to where I started – almost. Whilst climbing my author’s mountain I have had to persevere to pass through and to eventually emerge from the clouds of anonymity that surround just about all of us. I used to think that this was a daunting task in extremis, but then I stood and gazed at the 888,246. How many of them, when they marched off enthusiastically to what was believed to be a short-term chance at glory – at least at the beginning of the war – ever thought that, instead of a triumphant return, they would become an unnamed ceramic creation in the centre of London and, by so becoming, would for ever be remembered in the soul of a nation still scarred by the cataclysmic events, of which they were a miniscule part, all those years ago?

East Grinstead Concert Band performing in the Market Square of Brugges, Belgium.

East Grinstead Concert Band performing in the Market Square of Bruges (Brugge), Belgium.

East Grinstead Concert Band getting read to play under the Menin Gate in Ypres (Ieper), Belgium.

East Grinstead Concert Band getting read to play under the Menin Gate in Ypres (Ieper), Belgium. Every evening at 8pm sharp, local firemen sound the Last Post, a short ceremony follows and then reveille is sounded. On October 11th we played music for the wreath lying, which was the 29,727th time the ceremony was performed since its inception in 1928.

Remembrance took on a whole new dimension when we played under the Menin Gate in Ypres during our recent Belgian tour. Words cannot really express the feelings generated by directing 37 talented musicians in Elgar’s Nimrod, Purcell’s When I Am Laid in Earth and David of the White Rock. The music echoed amidst the 55,000 names of the missing that are engraved on the panels of the gate: men from all over the then British Empire, who simply disappeared in the mud and chaos of the battles that flattened the ancient city (now restored to its former glory).

So what is a year, when time for the poppies in the moat and for the names on the imposing edifice of the Gate simply stopped a century ago?

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Celebration…

…can take many forms. Birthdays, weddings and graduations are the obvious choices, but there are also other occasions to celebrate. On the one hand, for example, the life of a departed and much-missed loved one, passing your driver’s licence test or getting into that new item of clothing without cutting off the oxygen supply; on the other hand, achieving that which you thought unattainable and beyond your levels of endurance.

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Private Sydney Godley VC, born in East Grinstead.

It was with regard to this latter option that the East Grinstead Concert Band (EGCB) assembled in East Grinstead’s High Street yesterday to celebrate the bravery, devotion to duty and plain tenacity of Private Sydney Godley of the 4th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers. On August 23rd 1914, during the Battle of Mons, the 4th Battalion were ordered to defend the Nimy Bridge over the Mons-Condé Canal. Lieutenant Maurice Dease and Godley manned a machine gun after the previous crews were either killed or wounded. Dease was killed and Godley continued to man the gun for two hours, holding off the advance of the German army and allowing the rest of his section to retreat. Godley was severely wounded before being taken prisoner. The two men were awarded the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest military award for bravery under fire. They were the first to receive this honour in a war that what was to drag on for over 4 years of senseless slaughter on all sides. The event was also a salutary reminder that words such as “duty”, “commitment” and – sad to say – “loyalty” often come off very badly in our modern society.

The flagstone set into the foot of East Grinstead's war memorial honouring Godley's bravery and his commitment to his duty and to his comrades.

The flagstone set into the foot of East Grinstead’s war memorial honouring Godley’s bravery and his commitment to his duty and to his comrades.

The concert was also an occasion to mark an important event from our own times. The EGCB is a very talented and dedicated group of amateur musicians (several with a musical or military background), many of whom play more than one instrument. Some of us are also competent arrangers of music (within the copyright laws) and conductors. Yesterday’s concert marked the conducting debut of our Assistant Musical Director, Phil Stewart-Johns. To conduct one or two items on the programme can be harrowing enough; to direct the entire programme – particularly in gusty, cold and overcast weather conditions – can be positively terrifying! Phil and the Band came through with flying colours, so that was another reason for celebration. I also had the opportunity to play clarinet, which was a pleasant change from waving the baton out front !

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With Phil during the interval in our concert. Smiles all round !

Last Wednesday was also the day on which I had a meeting with my publisher, The Book Guild, in order to finalize the programme of publicity for the second novel in the “AN ECCENTRIC IN LUCCA” series, “Feelings of Guilt”. Publication date is set for mid-November and you can read a sample on my website, www.stuartfifield.com. We also finalized the contract for the second in the “JOURNEYS OF RUPERT WINFIELD” series, “The Gershom Scroll”, which is due for release in March of 2015. There will be a sample available on my website from mid-September. We are also planning an event via www.goodreads.com , which will give you the chance to win a copy of Rupert Winfield’s first Journey, “FATAL TEARS”. I’ll post more information on that as and when it becomes available.

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For me, these are all quite big events to celebrate, but perhaps we should also not lose sight of the simpler things in life, such as celebrating the ripening of home-grown tomatoes (no mean feat in our often miserable, sun- and heat-less climate), a glowing sunset or the affection we share with our pets. Life doesn’t always have to be complicated; simplicity also has an intrinsic value.

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What does change…

…mean to you? How do you view the difference between change and improvement?Are you someone who accepts the inevitability of change, or are you someone who blanches at the thought of changing something that is well-known and rather comfortably understood for something that is often one great, confusing mystery – when does change not become an improvement to the status quo of living? Consider the monumental changes during the 20th century, many of which can hardly be considered to have improved people’s existence; contemplate the modern world of electronics and instant communication.

If I had shown my grandfather a telephone the size of a playing card, he would have scoffed. If I had taken a picture with it, placed it next to a computer the size and thickness of little more than one of the upper-end glossy magazines, he would have scratched his head. If I had told him that something called e-mail would move it from ‘phone to computer, he have thought me totally daft. If he had known that the instant message had travelled those few inches from phone to laptop via Miami, Ulan Bator or goodness knows where else, he would probably have dialled 999 and asked for help!

Not as daft as it seems – who else amongst you can remember a ‘mobile’ telephone the size of a house brick?

Credibility is another thing often subject to change – what was once an unquestioned truth is now subject to a scrutiny that would have been unthinkable a few decades ago. So, all things considered, what does change actually mean to any of us?

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HRH Princess Anne in East Grinstead to unveil the memorial to Sir Archibald McIndoe, 9th June, 2014.

Recently, I conducted the East Grinstead Concert Band during the ceremony in which HRH Princess Anne unveiled a statue of the pioneering surgeon Sir Archibald McIndoe. The advances he and his team brought to the practise of plastic surgery, through the reconstruction of severely disfigured Allied airmen at the town’s Queen Victoria Hospital during the Second World War, changed and continues to change countless lives for the better.

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The McIndoe memorial surrounded by some of McIndoe’s “Guineapigs”. East Grinstead Concert Band can be seen in the top right hand corner of the picture.

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A century ago to the day, August 4th 1914, who would have thought that the conflict, which was predicted to be over by Christmas, would have such devastating and long-ranging effects on the entire planet? In our own time, there is the question of the change in our climate…

Being an Italophile and having one eye on retirement, I recently visited Bagni di Lucca. Enthused with that same spirit of exploration that sent armies of my fellow Anglo-Saxons to all corners of the globe, I set off from Lucca station with the anticipation of viewing the sites, especially the historic Royal Casino, Nottolini’s splendidly imposing Chain Bridge over the River Lima, the famous Ponte a Serraglio, and also of paying my respects at the English Cemetry.

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Looking up stream towards the Royal Casino and Ponte a Serraglio from the middle of the Chain Bridge.

At the end of a tiring day, sitting back on the platform of Bagni di Lucca railway station, I started to ponder the question of change in this peaceful part of the world. The River Lima, as it winds its way through the towns that make up what I now understand to be the larger Bagni di Lucca area, must have seen many changes over the years. Sitting on the platform of the attractively maintained station, it seemed clear that there had once been a garden area attached, presumably for the enjoyment of the flood of important, wealthy visitors who once frequented the famous thermal springs in the nearby towns. Sadly now somewhat overgrown, the outlines of the garden are still there, as are the well-established trees, but any sense of grandure has now gone: another instance of the fortunes of change? As I sat in the late afternoon warmth, I pondered how a return to the brighter lights of an earlier era might change the peaceful tranquillity of the area – would an increased flow of tourists be for better or worse? Perhaps in our instantaneous world, where so many seem to expect everything at the push of a button and to have it in their hand the day before yesterday, finding places such as those of the Bagni di Lucca area is one of the more rewarding aspects of change – or should that be reversion to a less hectic, more measured way of life?

As the train for Lucca came to a stop and I climbed aboard, it seemed to me that the towns of this particularly appealing area of a beautiful country really are something of jewels in the crown: perhaps not being in the mainstream of change is not such a bad thing after all. For my part, I’ll be back again at the end of this year to do the whole thing all over again.

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Do you believe in…

…circles or, put more specifically, in the concept that things are circular in occurrence – sicut erat in principio sort of thing? Yesterday certainly was. This is the week of the London Book Fair [LBF], an international gathering of the book industry at the huge Earls Court Exhibition Centre in London and, as The Book Guild has a stand amidst the sea of others, we decided to pay our ticket price and go. Having parked the car at our local railway station, we were greeted with a cheery blast from Suzanne, who was on her way to the coast to meet a friend for lunch – go for it, girl; it’s never too late to party!

Suzanne blowing a mean bass line on - logically enough - the bass !

Suzanne blowing a mean bass line on – logically enough – the bass !

Suzanne is a school teacher of the deaf and is also an accomplished musician, as are her brother and sister, the trio almost forming a backbone of the musical life of Wadhurst. Anyway, meeting Bubbles started the day of on a grand note and – this is my point – when we returned to Wadhurst some seven hours later, travelled-out and weary, we met her again, all lunched-out. So the day went in a pleasant circle – sicut erat in principio: as it was in the beginning…so it ended!

The LBF was something else, with exhibitors from all around the globe. Proof of the growing importance of China was to be seen in the number of Chinese publishers promoting the work of Chinese authors in their own language, as well as the number of English educational publishers now offering “Teach Yourself” type books on how to learn Chinese/Mandarin. My publisher’s stand did not disappoint and I was somewhat excited (by my usually restrained standards) to see a poster advertising my sequel novels to the two already published (see the top of the photo below).

With Graham Robson on the Book Guild's stand at this year's London Book Fair.

With Graham Robson on the Book Guild’s stand at this year’s London Book Fair.

A totally unexpected bonus was to meet fellow author Ian McFadyen, creator of the Inspector Steve Carmichael novels; the next one is due out early in 2015.

With fellow author IanMcFadyen at the LBF.

With fellow author IanMcFadyen at the LBF.

Follow Ian at this address:

https://www.facebook.com/ianmcfadyenauthor

Well done to Carol, Louise, Graham and all the rest of the Book Guild team for all their input towards this year’s LBF.

As if LBF was not enough excitement for one week, the musical airwaves were also alive with the sound of…those little black dots on the five lines!

Wadhurst Brass Band held their annual Spring concert in Wadhurst on Saturday evening and the event was, as usual, very well supported with an audience not that far short of 200. I’m now playing the baritone, which is about ⅔ the size of a euphonium and only about half the weight, but I’ll get used to it. What I found exciting and very rewarding was to see Suzanne’s brother, David (an extremely proficient trombonist), take his first full step down the conductor’s route. He has been given the direction of the training band and Saturday saw his first full directorship of the group’s contribution to the concert. I have encouraged David to conduct a single item with my East Grinstead Concert Band before, but not an entire mini-programme. Back to circles again – at some time or other I taught both David and Suzanne music at high school; on Saturday David left the nest, so to speak, and that made me feel very proud. It’s a long journey to the podium, but at least it’s started. One generation handing over to the next one!

The next generation of musicians. David swapped the trombone for the conductor's batton on Saurday.

The next generation of musicians. David swapped the trombone for the conductor’s baton on Saturday.

On Sunday I was asked to review a concert by the Kent Chorus (with a few guests from the London Orpheus Choir) and Meridian Sinfonia in the rather splendid setting of the Pamoja Hall at Sevenoaks School. The acoustics in the wood-lined auditorium are extremely good, as was the performance of both the Chorus and the Sinfonia. It was an all-Brahms programme, beginning with the St Anthony Chorale Variations, followed by the German Requiem. Great Stuff.

You can read the full review here:

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Kent-Chorus/249267045105489

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