Category Archives: music

A friend and The Golden Key

My friend Oi ( pronounced O-ee) had ideas so advanced that even Quaker Meeting – that most liberal and open- minded Christian group – threw her out.

She was born in 1900, the youngest of ten, to a father who was sixty years old, and she died when she was a hundred and four – so the two life-times covered a hundred and sixty four years, and went back to 1840. Her father was a cabin boy on a ship that was wrecked on the NZ coast in 1856. Local Maoris formed a human chain to rescue him, and he stayed with them for some time, becoming very close to the chief. After returning to England, he came back with a seventeen-year-old bride, and the Maori chief gave him land to start his life here.

Robin, Oi’s father, established a huge sheep farm, built a big beautiful house, cottages for his shepherds, barns, wool-sheds and an exquisite little chapel, where Oi and her nine brothers and sisters played the organ and helped hand out prayer books to the shepherds and their families as they entered.. As each child arrived, the generous chief had given them Maori land. He ceremonially adopted Oi, and gave her the Maori name Oiroa, which roughly translated, means: ‘compassion for those in need’. Though it was shortened to Oi, she lived up to her name always, and when I met her was beloved by many people for very good reasons.

She married a distinguished Auckland architect – sometimes known as NZ’s Frank Lloyd Wright – who created many of Auckland’s great buildings, like the Railway Station, and beautiful private homes including some famous ones in the Hawkes Bay. Oi herself was very musical, and played the piano, and was so deeply involved in the musical life of her adopted city, that in the early thirties she and another musical aficionado, started the first orchestra in the city, whose descendant is still thriving.

She was beautiful –  and open-hearted and sweet-natured. She was also unhappily married to a much older controlling, jealous and angry man. Other men loved her, and I picked up hints over the years of tempestuous scenes and dramatic confrontations, one in which her loyal cleaning lady divested a desperate suitor of his shotgun at the front door. Oi received and declined her last proposal in her eighties.

Her zest for life never diminished, in spite of a son’s suicide, a difficult life, and much loneliness. Neither did her kindness fail, or her energy, for that matter. I was sure her inner life kept her young. She was often busy driving “old ladies” shopping until well into her nineties. She obviously didn’t feel she qualified for that label – yet! Her spontaneity and authenticity, happiness and serenity, endeared her to all ages.

I met her at Quaker meeting, where we were both what is called attenders, as opposed to members. On occasion when the beautiful and mystical silence was gently broken by a deeply felt message, if it was Oi, as she was known for short, it would be a profoundly mystical and eminently practical thought.

Throughout her life she was drawn to mysticism, a branch of the spiritual life which has always been mistrusted by organised religion, as its devotees seek union with the Source, whatever it is called, thus bypassing the need for priests, mullahs, rabbis, gurus or whatever. Whether these mystics were Muslim, as in the case of Rumi and the Sufis, or Christians like Master Eckhart, or St John of the Cross, they often came to a sticky end at the hands of their respective religions.

Luckily in the twentieth century, this fate is not so common, and Oi escaped lightly by just being blackballed by Quakers! She explored most branches of both Western and Eastern mysticism, and in her thirties, became a lover of Ramakrishna’s teachings, keeping a photo of him by her bed-side always. He practised several religions, including Hindu, Islam and Christianity, and taught that in spite of the differences, all religions are valid and true, and they lead to the same ultimate goal- God.

After Oi introduced herself to me, and invited me to her beautiful house (I had not been long in NZ then), we became close, and she became my mentor. My two small children looked on her as a grandparent and we loved going to her serene and peaceful home.

Though it was in the city, it sat among mature trees and a rambling, flowery garden with a stream. Her architect son had designed it for her. Music, in her mid-seventies, was still her passion. Sometimes I would arrive at the garden entrance, and hear the glorious sounds of a trio or a quartet streaming out of the windows, and I’d stand silently outside under the persimmon tree, listening to Mozart or Mahler.

When the children and I were there, we‘d often end up singing round the piano with the student who boarded with her, and was a brilliant pianist and lovely tenor. We’d all sing favourites as diverse as Handel’s, ‘Where e’er you walk”, to: “Feed the birds,” from Mary Poppins. I had another musical friend, Phillipa, whose unbearable life (a romance I ‘ll tell another time) was slightly improved by taking clarinet lessons, and since her ambition was to play in an orchestra, she needed practice playing with others.

Hearing about her, typically, Oi offered to play with her, and through music-making, they learned to love each other too. I was spending the day with Oi when I learned that the ship Phillipa was sailing on had caught fire, and she and her two small children, one handicapped, plus her six-month-old baby, were adrift in a lifeboat in a violent storm. I never saw them again.

Oi’s unorthodox thinking, which of course, was not confined to spiritual practises, but spread into all areas of her life, alienated her family who were very religious and ultra- conservative. She rarely saw them, so she began spending Christmas with us until one son who disapproved of us too, was shamed into inviting her for Christmas after many years.

So it was that her funeral – which was attended by all those people from all walks of life, whose lives she had touched with love and compassion – was a very traditional one… which slightly puzzled me, as I was sure Oi would have wanted something different.

At the end her family left, and only five of us gathered round Oi’s coffin as it was lowered into the void – the student – now a judge, her cleaning lady for the last twenty years, my two now grownup children, and I.

The judge said to us, “That wasn’t the sort of funeral I expected Oi to have”.                    “No,” piped up the cleaning lady, “I still have a copy of what she wanted!”

I suddenly remembered how Oi, when she was too old to cope with driving in inner-city traffic, had asked her lawyer to call in and take possession of her will for her funeral. She had showed it to me – an exquisite collection of sayings on love, from mystics of all faiths. To my horror, the lawyer had charged this beautiful old lady in her mid-nineties, an exorbitant fee.

Standing by her coffin now, the judge wept over this betrayal of Oi’s wishes. “One more thing for her to forgive her sons for,” he sobbed. We all wept with him.

Before she died, Oi gave me the books which had sustained her, and influenced her thinking, and which had helped her  find her path to expanded consciousness and freedom. One of the joys of reading them was that she’d underlined or marked the passages which sang to her. Not only did I find this a wonderful aid to a deeper understanding, both of the texts and of Oi, but it also taught me the pleasure of marking and making my books my own, which I had never dared to do before.

I’d grown up learning that books should be treated as sacred, and never marked, turned down, or in any way treated as familiar friends. I do it all the time now, knowing that others who eventually find their way to them will – or might – enjoy the same pleasures of insight and intimacy as I have done.

Oi’s words still remain in my mind, and often come back to me. When there was a problem she would close her eyes, and focus for a minute, then open them and say firmly: “You cannot know the solution.  You can only pray that the situation evolves for the highest good of you, and everyone else involved. And know that this will happen, and let it go.”

She’d quote T.S. Eliot: “It is not our business what others may think of us,”… or: “God wastes nothing”. She’d say : “Let go and let God.”… and, “Happiness is like water in the palm of your hand. If you gently hold your palm open, it will stay. But if you clutch it and try to hang onto it, you lose it.” She died thirteen years ago, but her loving wisdom sustains me still.

The gift she gave me, which I treasure the most, and use constantly, is ‘The Golden Key’, a tiny spiritual masterpiece of only a few words. I give it now with love, as Oi did, to anyone who thinks it may be useful to them… https://morningstar.netfirms.com/goldenkey.html

Food for threadbare gourmets – those of us who qualify for this description will go hungry today, as I feel this post is so long, I can’t expect you all to go on reading, while Food for thought is contained in Oi’s sayings and in her life…


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Art and soul – do they matter?

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On Sunday I discovered that I am a member of a tiny minority. I belong to a group of around three million people world- wide who watch the live performances of opera filmed from the New York Metropolitan Opera House! And when I watched film of the Met audience, I decided that I must also belong to an even more select group, a blogger who watches opera.  I don’t know what a blogger actually looks like, but to my mind, this collection of elegant, groomed rich people didn’t look like bloggers- would they have the time to sit over a computer? Not did my home audience of mostly elderly people look like bloggers either!

It was a Mozart opera, ‘La Clemenza di Tito‘. Then on Tuesday I spent ages poring over Clanmother’s beautiful blog with Renoir’s pictures. On Wednesday I went back to see the opera again, unable to resist it, and on Friday I rushed in to see the film ‘Anna Karenina’  before it went off. A week you could say, of culture and art. The theme of the opera was goodness and mercy, though it took even worse liberties with history than Hollywood does. This didn’t matter.

The music was sublime, the costumes and scenery a feast for the eyes, and the voices were among the best in the world. Two of the parts were what are known in opera as trouser roles – that is they were written for women’s voices, but the characters were men. Anyone who saw singer Susan Graham all in white as the long legged elegant Rosenkavalier will know just how ravishing women dressed up as men are, and these two were delectable.

Opera singers are born, not made, but to achieve the mastery needed to sing opera well takes years of voice training, learning music theory and music history, if possible mastering an instrument, learning French, German and Italian since most operas are written in these languages, learning drama, acting skills, and sometimes ballet, and for men, sword fighting  skills. For the rest of their lives, opera singers have to continue to practise and train their voices to sing different sorts of opera. Mozart’s music is the most testing and the finest training according to singers. And many have to work at day jobs to make a living.

This opera was written in the last three months of Mozart’s life, when he was travelling around the music capitals of Europe looking for a post to support his family in 1791. It appeared in the first week in September; a week later he produced another great opera,’ The Magic Flute‘, and then some cantatas, a clarinet concerto, a piano concerto, and finally his great Requiem before dying on the 6 December. What inspired creativity in the last three months of his life, and typical of his lifelong astonishing output, having begun composing when he was five .

The pictures of Renoir throb with joie de vivre and utter beauty. Each exquisite picture, whether flowers, dancers, portraits or landscape are radiant with life and light. To see one is exciting, to see a collection of them is breath-taking … In spite of acute arthritis in his hands, Renoir went on painting into extreme old age, and the joyousness and celebration of beauty are always there.

‘Anna Karenina’ is considered to be one of the greatest novels in western literature… though some beg to differ, myself among them. At the end of this sumptuous production, with jewels and dresses to die for, I felt a distaste at having watched a collection of worldly people with no self awareness make a hash of their lives! This novel, along with ‘War and Peace’ are Tolstoy’s masterpieces, for he spent most of his later adult life trying unsuccessfully to reform his errant ways, and then trying to reform the world, gaining a controversial reputation as a reformer. He preached peace and inspired both Ghandi and Martin Luther King.

So in one week I had had a feast of some of the world’s great artists. Beverley Sills, the American soprano once said that: “arts are the signature of civilisation”, and it worries me sometimes that this signature is getting more and more illegible. In a film on Beethoven a couple of years ago, I heard a magnificent German bass agonising over what he called the dumbing down of our culture – referring amongst other things to cheap music, Facebook communication,  and the shallow snippets of sensational news on radio and TV – he was comparing them with the profundity of Beethoven .

I would also have added to his list new Bible translations which are no longer literature, but banal religious tracts, and the sort of art that wins prizes these days – someone’s unmade bed adorned with stubbed out fag-ends and grubby sheets, or a skull covered in diamonds. Both the perpetrators of these masterpieces are now rich and famous on the strength of them…

Taoist philosophy suggests that art awakens a response in the mind and soul and it is important that it should evoke the higher not the lower nature. And that is what the art that I revelled in this week did for me. It lifted me above the daily round and common task, the disappointments and frustrations of a rather difficult week, and reminded me of actress Stella Adler’s words: ‘Life beats down and crushes the soul, and art reminds you that you have one.’ Yes, I think art matters…

 

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Frangipane is the delicious almond base in many fruit tarts. It’s easy as…you just need four oz of butter and four oz of sugar, two eggs, one oz flour, 5 oz ground almonds, one teasp vanilla essence, and half a teasp of almond essence. Just beat them all together, and spread on top of the pastry. Then press down in it the fruit of your choice. This is only one of many recipes, some use more eggs, others use more almonds. I keep my ground almonds in the deep freeze so that they are fresh and don’t go rancid.

 

Food for Thought

Oh great Creator, grant us one more hour to perform our art and perfect our lives.     Jim Morrison 194 – 1971  Poet and songwriter who died unexpectedly in Paris at 27

 

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The Young Lead The Way

Growing old isn’t exactly a show stopper, but somehow one doesn’t have a choice.

I’ve just been to see Dustin Hoffman’s film Quartet, about four elderly opera singers living in a retirement home for musicians. People were fiddling and blowing and singing away somewhere all day… and the music was delicious – it was just the sort of luxurious old folks home I wouldn’t mind ending up in – they even had their tea in blue and white Old Chelsea pattern china cups and saucers – which would do me.

The four main oldies in the film, in real life ranged between 78 and 70. Since I’m right in the middle of this age range, I spent a lot of time examining their wrinkles and comparing them with mine, and I have to say that my wrinkles came out on top… they obviously had all spent a lot of time in their youth lying on fashionable beaches like St Tropez … apart from Tom Courtenay who always looks so bleak I can’t imagine him having fun anywhere.

On the other hand, Maggie Smith’s elegant figure cast mine into the shade, so it’s no good gloating about my wrinkles or lack of them. At the end of the film all the extras in the home, who were actually real musicians, were named, and a photo of them when young was shown on screen, side by side with them now, sagging chins, bristling eyebrows, broken veins –  the lot. It was rather moving seeing pictures of these gorgeous young men and women, with thick shining hair and pearly teeth, looking out from their youthful photos filled with life and vigour. Their young selves were almost unrecognisable from their older selves.

On their older selves life had carved furrows in their cheeks, faded their hair, expanded their waistlines and blurred their vision. But it had also softened their faces, smoothed away the thoughtless arrogance of youth, and chiselled kindness, humanity and acceptance into their expressions.

They were all still beautiful. The funny thing is, the older I get the more beautiful everyone seems. I look at young people and think oh, you just don’t know how beautiful you are. I see the golden hairs on their arms, the rim of black lashes round blue eyes, the sweetness in an expression, the sheen on straight hair, things that when I was young I never considered valuable at all.

I look at old photographs of friends and family and think, oh I didn’t realise how beautiful you were. And hindsight of course is a wonderful thing. I look at those pictures before marriage and divorce, childbirth and illness, heartbreak and depression had begun their long slow teaching process in each life, and marvel that the human spirit survives, chastened in some cases maybe, but surprisingly chirpy in most instances.

The children of today are different to those ingenuous ones I see in old photos. For a start they are much more savvy about the things that my age group agonise over. Just as in the early days of radio, adults struggled, and the young took to it with skill and know-how, so today, even toddlers seem to be born knowing how to use things like TV remotes, computers, mobile phones and all the rest. Twenty years ago when my daughter had had a new electric system fitted at her gate, and just as she was saying the two year old won’t be able to open them now, he leaned out of her arms and his little fingers pushed the right combination and the gates opened, fifty yards down the drive.

But more than the technological instincts, many of today’s children seem to be born with inner wisdom. We used to judge intelligence on a crude system of how good children were at maths and language and general knowledge. Educationalists now recognise other forms of intelligence, which include physical intelligence, artistic and musical intelligence, and probably more important than anything else, emotional intelligence, and spiritual intelligence – which includes an empathy for animals and a concern for the planet and the environment.

I’ve heard youngsters saying things like, “no I don’t see much of so and so these days… not much E-Q .” They take it for granted that emotional intelligence is an asset in life as well as in relationships, a concept that my generation had never even thought of.

Many children today are born with these sorts of knowing, which add up to wisdom and compassion. They have an innate integrity, as well as piercing intelligence. Some people have termed this group of children Indigo children, and you can even Google them, and read about them. They don’t necessarily have an easy time in a world which is only just beginning to adjust to new ways of thinking and being, but I meet them all the time, in surprising places, like the teenage hitch-hiker I stopped for, who talked of these things until he got out again.

Many years ago a friend wrote in a card she sent me after staying with us – ‘love is the hope and salvation of the world’. She changed it to ‘children are the hope and salvation of the world’. And children born with these special kinds of intelligence, will be the ones who do change the world – what Jean Houston, visionary and teacher -called  ‘the people of the breakthrough’. Aren’t we lucky that we can be with them at the start of their journey, and fill their backpacks with love and support and understanding?

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

At this time of the year – summer for us – I love salad Nicoise. Everyone has their own theory and recipe about this classic, but I compose it the way a Frenchwoman in Hong Kong taught me over forty-five years ago. She and her husband had a classic French restaurant in Kowloon, and she also taught me yoga, which she’d learned at Sai Baba’s ashram in India.

Anyway, to return to our muttons – as the French might say – all you need for her recipe is a fresh lettuce, a tin of tuna fish, one hard boiled egg per person, cooked potatoes, tomatoes and lightly blanched French beans. The really authentic ingredient which is sometimes hard to find, is pickled walnuts. If I can’t find any, I use juicy black olives.  Slice, chop and mix whatever needs it, put it all gently together in a bowl, and toss with vinaigrette just before serving – one third good vinegar to two thirds virgin olive oil, salt, black pepper, a touch of mustard and a tasting of sugar. Crusty bread and nice wine is good with it, and Madame gave us a chocolate soufflé afterwards…  Souffle recipe another day!

Food for Thought

Folks is as happy as they decide to be.    Abraham Lincoln 1809 – 1865, is reputed to have said this.

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Were You There?

‘They were the best of times and they were the worst of times’. They were times of magic and they were times of mayhem. They began with the election of John Kennedy and the creation of the Camelot legend… Kennedy’s inspiring, idealistic and often profound words spoke to the whole world of young people. His ravishing wife mesmerised them. His death devastated them.

It felt as though a light had gone out. Joseph Campbell in his powerful description of his funeral in ‘Myths to Live By’, described him accurately as “that magnificent young man representing our whole society… taken away at the height of his career, at a moment of exuberant life”.

But we picked ourselves up, and listened to Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, and began to see the world through different eyes. Mary Quant changed the way we dressed (her father had taught me history – a sprightly and kind, grubby little man with his daughter’s features, who told me their name came from the Quantock hills in Somerset, where their family had lived forever). Up went our hems and out went our stuffy classics – the clothes our parents wore.

A name we’d never come across before, began appearing on our TV screens – Vietnam. It crept up on us. Buffy Sainte-Marie’s haunting song ‘The Universal Soldier’ came out in 1964, but it didn’t mean much to us then. It took a few more years before it became our lament for the war.

And the Beatles came in singing, songs pouring out them, ‘Yesterday’ and ‘Penny Lane’, ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and then Sgt Pepper, which took them and us to a whole new level. In their snappy suits and with their long hair – except that it wasn’t really long – they terrified parents who saw them as decadent. But they were innocent schoolboys compared with the Rolling Stones.

Vietnam rumbled along, spawning horrible words like overkill and escalate, which disguised the indiscriminate killing and the napalm. The soldiers came to Hong Kong from Saigon, for what was called R and R – rest and recreation – which really seemed to be exhausting themselves in the brothels of Wanchai. And all the really great newsmen in the world were stationed there in Hong Kong, the heads of NBC and CBS bureaus, journalists on the great newspapers from the capitals of the world, and the magazines like Time and Life. I was lucky to know many of them, and saddened when some of them never came back from Vietnam, and then Cambodia, and their broken-hearted wives and children packed up to go back home.

Maybe it wasn’t so, but it often seemed that the whole world was focussed on this part of the world from Saigon and Phnom Penh, to Hong Kong and Peking, as it was still known then. Draft dodgers from the US ended up in Hong Kong, refugees from the Cultural Revolution, as well as Quakers on missions of peace.

And as the news from Vietnam got worse, and then the news from the America, I hardly knew what to say to my closest American friends, as they grieved and felt ashamed for the assassination of Martin Luther King, and then Robert Kennedy a few months later. They shared the shame too, of Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia. The students’ protests in the States, the rallies, the marches, the singing all reached us in Hong Kong.

But we were so close to the conflicts in Vietnam and then Cambodia,that these places overshadowed our lives as the correspondents and photographers flew in and out, escaped the Tet Offensive and Dien Bien Phu, or were ambushed and never came back. I lost several close friends, and their families lost fathers and husbands. And we were also sucked into Mao’s Cultural Revolution, which reverberated on into Hong Kong, with student rallies and bombs and Mao’s Revenge – cutting off our water for the whole summer of ‘68. We existed between the convulsions of China and the traumas of America.

And all the while we sang the songs of our time, and embraced what we called Women’s Lib, the gentler fore-runner of a later angrier and more effective feminism. We wore clothes with colours called psychedelic. And in ‘67 when we loved and danced to ‘When you come to San Franscisco,’ and the words, ‘there’s a strange vibration, a new generation, with a new explanation’ – flower power took over the world, and gentleness was fashionable. Girls in their long skirts, long beads and long hair, boys in ragged jeans, beads and beards were the symbol of those times. Hippies and alternative life-styles became part of our language and our culture.

They symbolised a youth who had turned their back on the values of the old world, the world of war and the assassination of all their heroes. They set their world on fire, marching, protesting, having sit-ins and singing, forever singing – ‘We shall overcome’, ‘Blowing in the wind’ … placing flowers in the mouth of the guns facing them on the campus. It was a conflict of established power against the youth of the world and the fulcrum was on US campuses. When firing erupted in May 1970 at Kent University it felt unbelievable. Did authority feel so threatened that they wanted to kill their own young?

Woodstock  had felt like the triumphant ending of the decade in 1969… the young really felt then that the world would change, that their good intentions and their ideals, their songs which mirrored their disillusionment with the past and their hope and determination for the future, were the beginning of a new Aquarian age of love and peace.

Some say it was all hot air and youthful rebellion. That all the idealism and hope were dissipated with adulthood and a mortgage and materialism. But a recent survey of people who participated in those days of flower power – who were committed to changing the world – has found that those people were, and are still committed to their beliefs – that they had worked in places where they could help people, and live out their beliefs in love and peace, trying to bring hope to those who had none.

They had been volunteers in shelters, social workers, overseas volunteers and teachers, some were Buddhists or Quakers, or had found other spiritual beliefs. Some had none. Some were simply committed. But they hadn’t given up, the sixties did change them, and at grassroots level they are still putting into practise their songs and protests and beliefs about love and peace.

Those of us who lived through the sixties wear it as a badge of honour. This was our time, and Christopher Fry’s poem says it for us:

The frozen misery

Of centuries breaks, cracks, begins to move,

The thunder is the thunder of the floes,

The thaw, the flood, the upstart Spring.

Thank God our time is now when wrong

Comes up to face us everywhere,

Never to leave us till we take

The longest stride of soul men ever took.

Affairs are now soul size….’

Those words are as true today as when they were written, but perhaps more urgent.

 

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

When I have stale bread, I use it in two ways, unless there are ducks to feed! I chop it into cubes, and quickly fry them in hot olive oil (light). They can be used straight away in soups, or frozen and re-heated in the oven. Good bread like sour dough or wholemeal is best for this. Supermarket soggy reverts to type as soon as it hits the soup.

If I have stale sliced bread – supermarket soggy – which I’ve bought for indulgent sandwiches, (love egg, and cucumber sandwiches in soft white bread!) I lightly toast it, and cut the crusts off. Using a very sharp knife I slide it down the soft middle, and then have two very thin pieces of half toasted bread. I put these in the oven on medium for about ten minutes, and they curl and become wonderful melba –like toast for pate or spreads. Make sure they don’t over brown…if you have toast bread, it’s even better.

Food for Thought – Christopher Fry’s poem has given us that!

 

 

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Imagine if We Did

John Lennon seems to be around at the moment. I watched him singing’ Imagine’ on George-B’s blog EuCaSia and read about him quoting his mother on happiness at onthehomefrontandbeyond.

He was never my favourite back then in Beatle-mad times. My teenage cousin who used to come and stay with me in the holidays from her boarding school, introduced  them to me.

I was bogged down with two tinies under two, no washing machine, boiling and rinsing the nappies by hand, drying them one by one in front of the fire, since they froze solid if I hung them out in the bitter cold, and was an exhausted slave to housework in the very large rented 15th  century manor house that we lived in.  My brilliantly intelligent and flighty young cousin produced Norwegian Wood, which as someone who lived and breathed Vivaldi and Bach, Beethoven and the rest, I looked on with some suspicion.

I let her use my gramophone, and bingo – their energy and zest for life kick-started me. ‘ Michelle, ma belle’ … ‘I wanna hold your haaaand’ … I could hardly bear to let her go back to school taking the record with her. I loved their exuberance, their cheekiness, their vitality – and their music. Eventually I could afford my own records, and acquired the rest as they came out. I waited longingly for Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band, by then an increasingly depressed housewife in Hongkong. The Beatles and Bob Dylan brightened my life…

I could never see what people saw in Paul, apart from a cheeky charm, and amazing talent. Ringo, of course was not a heart throb – was he? John Lennon… I found him rather brash and tough, but George – now we’re talking. Tall, handsome, withdrawn and interesting, and very nice waistcoats. Above all it was his interest in the spiritual life that drew me to him.

Then along came Ono. Perhaps if none of them had married, they’d still be together, but being the men they were, both Paul and John married powerful, talented interesting women, who changed the whole dynamic of the group.

Like Linda McCartney, Ono was an artist in her own right, though I’ve never understood her art. She’s won countless prizes over the years since John’s death, the last one this year, being the Oscar Kokoschka Prize, Austria’s highest award for contemporary art. Her achievements are too numerous to name, and her awards are for her genius in merging pop art with avant garde. That may make sense to some people, but it’s double dutch to me. The one thing I do understand was her concept of the wishing tree, a beautiful idea which has now spread.

When Ono met John, she was seven years older than him, born in 1933. She had already been married twice, and had had a daughter who’d been kidnapped by her American father and who Ono never found until the daughter was grownup. Ono came from an aristocratic Japanese family, descended on her father’s side from the Emperors of Japan.  During the war when her father was separated from the family, her mother and her siblings became destitute. They survived the fire – bombing of Tokyo, and fled to the mountains where they bartered their remaining possessions for food.

After the war, when the family were re-united, Ono went to the exclusive peers school in Tokyo, and shared a classroom with Prince Akahito, now the Emperor of Japan. When the family moved to the US she attended Sarah Lawrence College. She’d already had exhibitions and performed when she and John got together.

Before their marriage and their famous lie-ins for peace, they had had a turbulent on-off relationship, and they both underwent primal therapy, which is usually a life-changing process. Ono was never going to be a star-struck wife. When she became pregnant she agreed to have the baby if John became a house husband so that she could get on with her career. He did. He gave up his music and spent five years looking after his baby son.

When I watch him singing ‘Imagine,” it’s like watching a different person to the brash young Beatle who repelled me. His face is lean and calm, chiselled by profound inner experience. Five years away from the screaming crowds, the insane  celebrity, the constant performing; five years devoted to being at home with a baby who needed him; five years in which he had lived an inner life, had given his face the purity of an early Christian ascetic.

Watching him sing’ Imagine’, with deep conviction and a commitment to the peace of the world,  is like watching someone singing a sacred song. Which it was, and is. His haunting plangent tones and inspired words go straight to the hearts of all who are open to that longing for peace on earth.

Seeing him sing, and seeing that inner light emanating from him, makes me feel that his death was not untimely, or a cutting off of his talents. In hindsight, he seemed to have reached a point where he had done what he had come to do – used his talents for mankind, and discovered inner peace for himself.

The ones who perhaps suffered the most were his children. Ono took up with an antiques dealer four months after John’s death, in a stable relationship that lasted until 2001, and has continued on her stellar path. Her commitment to peace has never wavered.  And for us –  ‘Imagine,’ is still the prayer of so many of us too.

 

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Still thinking broccoli, it’s so cheap and plentiful at the moment. I use it for a light lunch, and this dish is a lovely easy one to serve to a few girls with hot rolls and a glass of wine… followed by good coffee and a nice pudding or piece of cake.

Break the broccoli into sprigs and steam. At the same time put two cups of cream into a saucepan, and break into it pieces from two of those segments of sharp blue cheese – Danish or similar. Stir all the time until the cheese is melted and amalgamated.  It’s quite nice with a few small lumps of cheese left in it. Just pour this over the fresh steamed broccoli. This is plenty for two, double the quantities for four. It’s good to have the rolls to mop up any sauce left over. It can also be re-heated. I’ve even dropped a left- over dollop into broccoli soup.

Food for Thought

This thought is dedicated to Maggie at somethingfathappened.wordpress.com and her devoted readers will know why:                                  Long ago when men cursed and beat the ground with sticks it was called witchcraft. Today it’s called golf.                                                             Cherokee Indian, cowboy, entertainer, newspaper columnist, film star. Died when his plane crashed in 1935

 

 

 

 

 

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