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For those of you who knew it was going to happen, it happened. For those who didn’t: I threw a surprise party for R last week. 

Oh yes I did.

The children were in on it. It took weeks to plan. On top of everything else. I don’t know what got into me, except this: we have a tendency to be away for his birthday. In fact, we haven’t been home in years  on the actual day. So I wanted to make an effort. I  said I’d cook him dinner. He was panicking (stop laughing). We sent him outside to his shed until we were ready. He was panicking. He thought that the best he could hope for was take-away Chinese.

The children led him in the front door, eyes closed. When he walked in —

18 people were sitting on the floor of our living room.

I’d done it! We’d done it!

He was gob-smacked. The first thing he said was Who thought this would be a good idea? In fact he said this several times in the first two minutes. Which panicked me somewhat.

Then we poured him a glass of bubbly.

Friends had sent cards. Sarah and Mike had sent flowers. Nancy and Hamish had sent a strawberry tart from the Goods Shed. Everyone had brought food. So R’s fears were unfounded. And it was good food. Even better, it was great.

The children popped all the poppers and then watched loads of episodes of the Simpsons with their friends.

We ate and ate. R opened his presents (cookbooks and wine!). 

His brother called. His father called.

He had a birthday. He is Eeyore no more.

(But I hated the white lies. Shiver.)


We are lunging for the finish line that is called our annual holiday — hurray! So will be out of commission on these pages for a coupla weeks….Will return with photos and quite a bit fatter no doubt (though I’ve earned it: gym three times a week, yay!).

Til then: peace. Read a good book.

The concert last night — given by the Ensemble Intercontemporain in the Canterbury Cathedral crypt –was…one of the most powerful musical experiences of my life.

Words can only gesture toward what happens when players at the top of their form engage with music sublimely suited to the place and time. People all around me were crying. I was crying. Nancy and Hamish were there. I saw Nancy at the interval and she said she had a struggle not to cry in the first bars of Debussy’s … — and that was only the first piece!

The silence in the Cathedral crypt  always crackles. It seems to hold everyone’s thoughts and emotions, somehow turning it all, like a big ship, back upon us. The silence washes over in waves.

This was music of course that privileges silence.  I’ve always found the contemporary/modern music of French composers such as Messiaen and Boulez resonant. It’s an aesthetic not far from R’s, and not far from my own, at heart. Lots of space, breath, and a sense of elevation, suspension. Where the quality of pure sound, the sound of sound, if you like, is valued. (Or so it seems to me. I realise I am quite the pleb when it comes to musical analysis…)

But I sort of digress. I suppose some of what I’m saying is that I was up for it. As was the whole audience it seemed. The clarinetist Alain Damiens and the cellist Pierre Strauch, well. It’s difficult to say without seeming mad, but I wanted to climb inside their instruments and live there. I wanted to be in that, all day every day. I thought, in another mad moment, keeping in mind that this was in a church — so I probably prayed it — just let me always hear this, be there, and I will never be without joy. I wanted it to last forever.

The final piece was Messiaen’s astonishing Quartet for the End of Time. After the last, almost inaudible strains of the music finished, the audience did not clap for perhaps 20 or 30 seconds. It was as if everything we knew had stopped in its tracks. And we were waiting for some sign, any indication of where to go next, what to do. Waiting to be reborn. Which never came. Because we had no choice but to return to our lives. And clap.

I feel particularly quiet today, like I’ve been through a crisis and must recover. I don’t know how we are to carry on after a night like that. The transience is almost too much to bear.

The programme:

Claude Debussy Sonata

Gerard Grisey Charme

Tristan Murail Les Ruines circulaires

Olivier Messiaen Quatour pour la fin du Temps


Thank you, Sounds New.

Well. All I can think of are lists this morning. Thanks in particular go to:

1) Tom, for arriving just as I sent a panicky message saying we’re going to have to take the kids with us

2) Sat nav

3) Crockatt & Powell, for opening their doors and keeping them open

4) Anthony Delgrado, for the book and the wine

5) Lynne Rees, for a blushingly lovely and funny and altogether warm intro

6) Nancy Wilson and Hamish Fulton, for their gift of these wacky and wonderful ceramic cups:

Nancy and Hamish’s cups

7) The charming, inexpensive Japanese restaurant down the street, the name of which I could not register by the time I reached itLosing You front cover

8) R, for making us laugh and laugh

9) Sat nav

10) Today being Friday

Did I mention I was still recovering?


From January 2010, my new blog is Waving and Drowning


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Who am I?

A writer born in Texas, who grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia (yes, like the song), and who's been living in the UK since 1988. I've published two books (see below), and teach creative writing at the University of Kent. I'm married to a composer, and we have two young children. See About for my full profile.