Bear with me.
This might start off sounding unutterably Hampstead – and if you’re not English, I’m talking about a smart, wealthy part of London where luvvies and literati hang out. The wealthy ones, the ones who’ve made it, or have hand-me-down money.
I’m not a part of that set, as you’ll know by now if you’ve read much of this blog. So, as I say . . . bear with me.
It’s gone two thirty in the afternoon. I stroll up the road to a neighbour’s house, in need of a nice cup of tea and a little sit down.
Do you like Redbush [rooibos], he asks? Oh yes, I do.
He boils water, makes a brew laced with orange, in a teapot made of glass. A liquid the colour of medium-dry sherry – but glowing a little more amber.
I sip at a taste that begs for mince pies – or for Christmas cake – and carols.
We chat about making pastry, about suet and home-made mincemeat. About drains and wrong connections.
We talk about northern accents – such as mine. View curtains that are torn, but too expensive to replace in this tall-ceilinged house. Discuss a record, recently arrived. A recording made in Moscow, in the ’60s, with an exuberant, exotic-patterned sleeve.
And then he says, do you like Schubert?
Ummm – well, some, well, The Trout, I stutter.
I’m never sure, is the more honest answer.
The Trout’s good listening on a cheerful Sunday morning, I don’t say.
I feel like a Philistine just thinking it.
Do you know the Schubert impromptus? He persists.
Now, we’ve just given this young man and his wife a coffee table – we won’t need it in our soon-to-be new home.
But I don’t foresee what’s coming, which makes it all the more touching.
Would you like to hear one? He says.
(Did I say my neighbour’s a concert pianist?)
He offers a chair, but I stand and lean against the door jamb. I can’t see his hands – if Anthro-man were here he would want to watch those hands, but I don’t even think about it. I want to close my eyes. To wander where the music takes me.
The sound is sublime. The notes make the air vibrate – like a massage for the senses.
For a few soothing minutes I’m an audience of one, to an artist. Privileged as a King or a Cardinal, an Emperor or a Sultan.
As the resonance dies away I realise how utterly beautiful such a gift is. It can’t be touched, it can’t be seen, and once it’s over it can’t be heard. But it lives as long as I have memory to keep it.