They don’t write songs like that any more

Saturday July 16, 2005

The first thing to do is to work towards establishing a sustainable routine, fitting in both essential and non-essential activities. That way the day fills, the weeks pass, and there’s little time for the long silences into which black dogs are liable to creep and make themselves at home.

The day starts, as always, with a writing session. Short or long, sour or sweet, that’s a routine so long part of my life I’ve no reason to alter it, nor intent to displace it. Then, a short burst of chores, feeding Dolly, cleaning her litter tray, taking out the trash, and finishing with watering the containers. If I’m of a mind to break my fast, this is when I do so, followed by a read of my book. Shower, shave, and make myself presentable. This is the ideal time to get any external errands done, otherwise, I think it’s the best time to put in an hour or so of piano practice. Lunch, nap, and a short turn around the garden, pulling weeds and tidying generally. Coffee, and my book again, taken outside if the weather permits. Then, a bit of house cleaning except on grass cutting days. I let the house cleaning slip on grass cutting days. Finally, if there’s any time left, the best activity for me is to go out to the workshop, now my studio, and work a bit on the in-progress canvas. I take my dinner late so as to have most of the evening free for painting, or playing the piano. After dinner, I’ll try for a bit of TV but, even with time-shifting by means of the VCR, there’s no great joy for me in TV. I prefer the radio, and have either BBC Radio 4 or 3 playing from dawn till dusk.

So, I’m getting there, very quickly, guarding from the very start against empty hours.

Today, my outing was to Spilsby to post a parcel and then to the dump over at Skegness to drop off the clippings from my grass cutting exercise of yesterday. At Graham’s urging I am to buy a supply of green waste recycling bags from the local council so that garden waste may be included in the weekly collection. The council charges 50p a bag but this is actually cheaper than the fuel cost of a run to Skeggie, especially when the cost of a standard black plastic back is deducted. Seems a good idea, and I’ll do that on Monday.

Oh, gosh but it was hot out there again today. I was glad to get home to the shade of drawn blinds and the cool of the electric fans. Dolly and I had a grand siesta right through the oppressive heat of the afternoon, waking to find the early evening cooler and more pleasant altogether.

Much of the evening was taken up with the piano. I have discovered that there is a wealth of sheet music free to download from the Internet in PDF form, print out, and finger through, so I spent a happy hour acquiring copies of the first two preludes and fugues from the Well-tempered Clavier, and then of good old parlour songs, the ones we’d sing around the piano in the old days. Hard Times, of course. And several others. The arrangements are for voice and piano and need to be transcribed into a piano solo if I’m to get full enjoyment of them. I found a blank music manuscript PDF, and printed out a few sheets, but I’d prefer a book.

I’d really rather fancied working through a couple of Cole Porter favourites but these are still in copyright, and heavily guarded, too. I’ll treat myself to a copy of the Cole Porter Songbook when I go to Boston on Monday.

And so my evening ended with the lugubrious sight and sound, fortunately unseen and unheard, of a chubby old poet singing along to a faltering self-accompaniment, working through a few old style songs. Wish I had the tenor voice needed for ‘Hard Times’. The one that really got me going, though, and far more suitable for my bass-baritone, was a real tear-jerker of the kind we loved way back when:


The Vacant Chair
We shall meet, but we shall miss him,
There will be one vacant chair;
We shall Hunger to caress him,
While we breathe our evening pray’r.
When a year ago we gathered,
Joy was in his mild blue eyes,
But a golden chord is severed,
And our hopes in ruin lie.
[Chorus] We shall meet, but we shall miss him,
There will be one vacant chair;
We shall linger to caress him,
While we breathe our evening pray’r.
Geo. F. Root (1820-1895)


They don’t write songs like that any more.


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