The Earl, now an old man more concerned with wandering his estate than conniving in the hurly-burly of tin-pan boulevard, recalls some of the people, places and things he has seen.

 

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  "Well, everyone's having to cut back now", I retorted, when Rowan Williams complained that on recent fact-finding visits to the sink estates of Britain he was often obliged to go unaccompanied. "Are you scared?" I enquired. "Ah", he sighed, and intoned in that voice of almost unearthly composure, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with me and thy rod shall comfort me." He noticed my quizzical look. "You can't get the staff these days", he clarified.

 

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  My grandfather, the fifth holder of the title, was a celebrated, if baffling, raconteur. He had taken part in many military campaigns around the British Empire with the rank of lieutenant general in the 89th Regiment Royal Irish Fusiliers, and was, according to him, present at many of the pivotal events of that era. During the Crimean war he was seconded as liaison to the French High Command and spent the Battle of Balaclava on the bluffs above the infamous 'valley of death'  where the Light Brigade demonstrated extremes of courage and folly in their attack on the Russian gun emplacements. While the carnage played out beneath them,  the French generals, whose supplies of fine wines had been ambushed and carried off by a Cossack raiding party, were reduced to quaffing the beer that the earl had brought with him. As they surveyed the terrible scenes Killorglin sought the opinion of Bosquet, the French commander,  

  "Maréchal, qu'est-ce que vous pensez?" 

  The old soldier sipped from his goblet and considered for a moment,

  "C'est lager, mais ce n'est pas magnifique,"  he concluded.

 

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  My analyst was initially intrigued at my mentioning a recurring dream which featured a particularly fearsome barking dog. I pleaded with her to offer some interpretation that might soothe my fraying nerves, and after some thought she characterised it thus,

  "Full of sound and furry but signifying nothing". 

 

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 In the early sixties I was understudying second viola with the London Philharmonic, which meant I spent a lot of my time relaying racing results and placing bets for the high and mighty of that orchestra. One summer Herbert von Karajan took the guest baton for a taping of Mozart meisterwerks, and the insolent musicians plotted to undermine the command of the famously authoritarian Austrian. Facetious questions would be asked to fits of stifled giggling, "Could the maestro explain how much rubato he would like in that dark passage", "Do you like extended fingering on my g string sir?", "Should the trombone section use more vigorous tonguing in bar 69?", "Shall I climax on the slur?", "Are we projecting enough from our f holes?" and so on.

But the imperious leader was not without a sense of humour himself, and schemed to turn the tables on the impertinent instrumentalists. During rehearsals for Zauberflöte, at the instant the busty soprano hit the notorious high F of 'O zittre nicht, mien lieber Sohn', her bra, wired to a contraption of the conductor's devising, flew off over the heads of the string section and landed amongst the bassoons. 

  When the time came to think up a title for the completed box set of recordings there was no consensus until I suggested, simply, 'Karajan Conducting'. 

 

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 My father, the 6th earl, was famously dissolute and very much the black sheep of the family. As a young man he left what he saw as a claustrophobic and backward Ireland and washed up in Paris, where he consorted with a group of Irish exiles in the bars of Montparnasse. On the fringes of this bunch was the aspiring writer Samuel Beckett, who had recently found a sinecure as secretary to James Joyce, and who had become smitten with Joyce's beautiful and troubled daughter Lucia. The ex-patriots were very down on Beckett, describing him as miserable and sour. Arriving at their habitual cafe one April afternoon the Earl found the conversation had turned again to Beckett and the depression in which he wallowed. "Well I saw him this morning," the Earl countered, "and he was full of the Joyce offspring!"

 

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 As for many of you, no doubt, the bane of my recent years has been constipation. What I have discovered is that the bowels can be loosened and the problem alleviated with a self-inserted german sausage. I am my own wurst enema.

 

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 My early career as music producer took in a trip to Brazil in the early sixties, and I was lucky enough to meet and work with some of the noteworthy figures of the Bossa Nova movement, centred around the illustrious and inspirational poet Vinicius de Moraes. I did not meet the great man at first, but got to know other artistes at the many dinner parties held by that innovative circle. The craze at the time in Rio was for Japanese cuisine, and they eschewed the many Brazilian delicacies altogether. Nara Leāo concocted an indifferent Sushi, Astrud Gilberto essayed a Sashimi with Udon noodles, a curious combination, Carlos Lyra's Teriyaki was peculiar, I could never eat another octopus! And Tom Jobim's Unagi was like cardboard. I was tiring of these dishes when I received a call from Vinicius himself and immediately accepted his invitation to eat, inwardly hoping that he would provide a more traditional menu. However, on the arrival of the predictable first plate despondency set in,

"O Tempura O Moraes", I exclaimed. 

 

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For a time I was running errands for the Black Panthers, some light household cleaning, cooking and grocery shopping. Their favourite dish was of course cassoulet, but procuring the ingredients was a job made rather bothersome by the vagueness of Malcolm X's oft-repeated instruction to "buy any beans necessary". 

 

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As a respite from her labours in ethics and political theory, Hannah Arendt  liked nothing more than exploring the towns of South Somerset. I would drive her to the likes of Chard, Crewkerne, Ilminster or Martock and on the homeward journey she would gaily recount  the distinctive beauties and idiosyncrasies of these charming places. Returning from one such visit however she sat beside me ashen-faced, slumped in the seat as if all the cares of the world were upon her shoulders, refusing to answer my gentle entreaties as to what was wrong until, exasperated, I cried out, "Mrs Arendt, what is it?"

"The banality of Yeovil." she murmured. 

 

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 It is a rarely mentioned fact that John McEnroe is a passionate amateur astronomer, and will spend hours with his eye affixed to a telescope scanning the night sky. When he was but a beginner I joined him on one of his all-night vigils, thinking that perhaps I could give a few pointers to the temperamental sportsman. His special passion was the trajectory of Venus, and after a long night he excitedly exclaimed that he had located this favourite planet. When I mentioned that in fact he was mistakenly viewing another bright celestial body his reaction was explosive, and he railed at that imposter in the heavens,

"You cannot be Sirius!"  

 

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 A cruel rope chafed my icy hands and the spiteful hail stung my face as I surveyed the dismal scene before me. The bitter wind raised flurries of snow from the cobbles of the prison yard. At the first light of dawn the shivering firing squad were motioned to readiness. 

"Do you have any last words?",

 the captain of the guard addressed me, his breath visible in the air.

"I would have preferred a summery execution", I whimpered.

 

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