Friday 22 January 2010

When first I heard


I was staying in a house on the shore of Lough Hyne
in Skibbereen, West Cork.
I was 19 years old and a guest 
of the parents of one of my college friends.
The reason I have remembered exactly where I was
is because of the curious circumstances in which it 
impressed itself on me.

This was a holiday like no other I had experienced.
The house was all faded Georgian grandeur.
(Many of Molly Keane's books will convey 
the atmosphere of that place.)
We spent hours fishing on the Lough,
 pulling in lines full of pollack and mackerel,
and when we gutted the pollack we found that they were magically 
stuffed with mackerel.
In the evenings we dined on potatoes, cabbage and grilled mackerel,
or cabbage, potatoes and grilled pollack,
in a cold and cavernous kitchen.

One evening we expected a special guest.
I knew she was important because the table was laid in the
pink dining room and a fire was lit. 

Her name was Anna Freud,
the sixth child of Sigmund Freud.

This is exactly how I remember her. 
She must have been nearly 80 years old.
There was an atmosphere of nearly reverential solemnity
and I was suitably awestruck, but utterly ignorant of her work.
Luckily I merited only a cursory glance and 
was not called upon to perform.
Why she was there, I have no idea, but nothing was ordinary;
everything was charmed.
And so one night as I slept, in a lumpy bed piled with ancient eiderdowns,
some beautiful music percolated my dreams
and when I awoke, it was still playing.
These trickling notes poured through the bedroom
and I thought I had never heard anything so beautiful.

In the morning I asked if anyone else had heard it
and my friend's mother said that she played music
because of her insomnia and that 
Schubert's Impromptu in E flat major
was what I had heard.

I chose this recording because it's muffled quality 
most nearly matched
the sound I heard, through the walls, that night.