Berlin was pretty special. I was in Germany as a pre-university lad for several weeks, but back then the wall was up and the city was pretty much off limits. I went to the border elsewhere but never went to Berlin, and it took nearly another thirty years to get round to it. All I can say is that it was worth the wait, a spacious city with a Parisian feel but without the eye-watering prices, even if the post-referendum exchange rate can cause the occasional tear. I was in Berlin with the Parliament Choir, the return leg of a two-parter begun two years ago when the Bundestag Chor came over to perform Of All Persons And Estates (and others) in Westminster Hall. That concert was special, so was Monday’s.
Sweet Was The Song and We Three Kings were both on the programme, and my arrival on the Monday morning caused a flurry of excitement during the rehearsal as I meandered aimlessly on a river bank, little knowing that I was in full view of an excited choir who (O tempora! O mores!) whipped out their phones and cameras to frame my discomfort. Still, some of the images were arresting, not a million miles away from a Pink Floyd album cover, maybe.
In the evening after the concert I strolled down to where Checkpoint Charlie used to be, McDonald’s now on one side of it, KFC on the other – welcome to the West – and then, slowly, quietly, I turned left and sought out the memorial to Peter Fechter. I was still at school when was made aware of Fechter, and, like many others at the time and since, was aghast at the whole thing. When I was in Germany in ’88 I wanted to get to the Wall but could not, so on Monday, with fragments of those same bricks now on sale in the tourist shops with model Trabants on top, I wandered along to the very spot where Fechter was left to die, where the memorial now stands. After so long it felt like the rightest of right things to do, and it was an intense and emotional moment, a small gesture to somebody I never met, could do nothing about, but whose death has nevertheless stayed with me for many years. He might still have been alive today had he made it over that wall – his grandchildren might have been in that KFC or McDonald’s on Monday evening…
A diary mishap (for want of a better word) meant that I found myself with more time than I had anticipated as the week wore on. This was definitely a good thing, as three extremely early rises in a row coupled with the onset of my traditional streaming Christmas cold had left me somewhat the worse for wear. I headed home on Tuesday evening, stopping to see one of my fellow game reviewers to pick up some cardboard, grab a coffee and discuss our addictions, and eventually got through my own door in time to deal with the remnants of a bottle of red wine before slipping, exhausted into sleep. Once upon a time the measure of a person’s success and stature was measured by the amount of leisure time they had, but now it is by how busy they are or, at least, appear to be. I am not convinced that the change is always for the better.
Feeling old school therefore on Wednesday, and after a lovely lunch with some wonderful and priceless friends from France, I found myself in that rarest of situations, with a clear afternoon ahead, the house to myself (and the cats) and nothing on my immediate “to do” list. I fired up the iPlayer, acquired a cat for my lap in short order, and took in the air of relaxation. Everything else, for once, could wait. I cannot in all honesty remember the last time I indulged myself in such a manner, but it was delightfully fitting for my mood.
In terms of writing I have now entered a quiet time. The various performances of my carols and pieces in the past weeks have led to enquiries, and I have sent out scores, but in terms of commissions things are a little quiet. This usually means that I will find a competition to enter or do some technical work, but I have been pretty busy over the past few months, without factoring in the various stresses and strains of bereavement and remortgages, so I am taking a little time off, and all without guilt. That is not to say that I am bereft of ideas, though. The opposite is true, in fact, and I am putting so very early sketches together for a piece which may or may not need to be written until the end of next year and, of course, actively chasing new commissions. We shall see.
Thursday night, shortly after I intend to publish this blog, is the Classic FM broadcast of the Parliament Choir concert, and on Sunday afternoon and evening, if you happen to be in London, there will be two further performances of This Light Of Reason. These will be at the carol services at St. Columba’s, Pont Street (5pm) and Christ Church, Hampstead. As we head towards the end of the year and I look both forwards and backwards there will be several things that will have contrived to make 2016 memorable, several pieces and several performances, but the piece for Jo is the one that I really want to survive and spread, the one with the message that really needs to be heard, especially in a time when powerful people speak once more of building walls to keep people out or locked in.