Sunday, 24 April 2011

Pale violets

It rained all day yesterday, until evening when the sun came out and Harry and I went out to play in the burn. But before that: I sat listening to BBCR4 and realised it was a whole programme about Sweden! I quickly messaged my Swedish date. The tag on the TV screen - I always listen to the radio on the TV - said 'serial thrillers, music, and design' - which (you might guess) stood for Stig Larsson (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo etc), Abba and Ikea. Well - it turns out that an extraordinary percentage of Europe's music is recorded in Sweden, not just Abba. Was it 40 per cent? I should have been listening more carefully. My date has changed his Facebook photograph to a picture of him at the wheel of a sailing boat with a pipe stuck in his mouth, looking like Thor Heyerdahl, one of my childhood heroes - , the man who crossed the Pacific on a raft called Kon Tiki. The successful Northern economies - Norway, Denmark and Sweden are all constitutional monarchies, and here I tip my hat to Knut my Norwegian lodger who saved my economic bacon, enabling me to make ends meet in the last years in London before I downsized. Knut was rather grand, a bon viveur in his 70's who worked in the financial services industry. He used to go racing with one of his best clients, returning the worse for wear and on one occasion a taxi driver rang my front doorbell with Knut's diary and wallet which he had dropped in the effort of staggering from the cab to his basement quarters in my house. Knut's father was a member of the Norwegian royal family who had been on the wrong side during the last war, so Knut's mother had divorced him and married a British naval officer and sent Knut to Stowe where he learned English like Eliza Doolittle so impeccable he might have been taken for a Hungarian. I am drawn to the displaced and the dispossessed, early on opting to learn everything I could about that other great Northern presence, Russia , whose emigres sparkled in dull suburbs, cheap hotels and attic rooms of America and western Europe throughout the last century, teaching the piano or giving lessons in their magnificent language. Later, when I used to host regular visits from Russians as part of my job, I was able to observe them for days on end both at home and abroad. Once, I had twelve members of the Moscow Arts Theatre to Sunday lunch in my tiny basement kitchen. It was a sunny day so we all went out into the garden afterwards to smoke and drink tea. I came back indoors to fetch something and found Oleg Efremov, Russia's Laurence Olivier, who played Hamlet, and Astrov in Uncle Vanya standing eating a cherry tomato. He started like a school boy discovered scrumping apples. Now, I think it wasn't about the tomato. He was snatching a moment alone, the one thing you weren't meant to savour if you were a good Soviet. Many years later, just before he died, he hosted lunch at Elly's hen party at the theatre (MXAT) in Moscow where a photograph of Gordon Craig hangs. Gordon Craig worked as a distinguished set designer at the Moscow Arts Theatre in the 1920's. His mother, Ellen Terry, used to stay with her entourage, Sir Henry Irving, his secretary Bram Stoker and hers Eleanor Marx (daughter of Karl) at Watermeetings, the farm in the upper Clyde Valley below the forest. Gordon was illegitimate so Ellen Terry gave him the surname 'Craig' after Ailsa the rock that sticks up in the sea between Scotland and Ireland aka Paddys' Milestone. We went up to the forest at midday yesterday and tried unsuccessfully to get the barbecue lit under the deck; luckily I had brought some pork pies and we cooked sausages on the stove indoors while Harry chased the hens and found a frog (1 v small) and slugs (3 large). We got so wet that it didn't matter any more, and the trees were enjoying it. And everywhere the slopes of rough tussocky turf were sparkling with thousands of tiny pale violets, like Russians.

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