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Diary: Pat Ashworth

02 October 2020


Gone goose

THERE will be no Nottingham Goose Fair this year, just as there wasn’t in 1646 when bubonic plague hit the city. We are lamenting even the absence of our six-foot high “Goosey”, an annual landmark that appears on a traffic island near by in the first week of October, and always looks as though it’s flown in and landed overnight.

This is a glorious fair, an event where you’re bound to bump into people you know among the streaming masses. The question is never whether you’ll be going to Goose Fair, but which day — although my father used to pay us not to go if it was likely to be a sea of mud.

More than the event itself is its place in the cycle of things. It is the herald of autumn, a clear marker between the seasons. And, for the past few years, it has, in a curious way, been part of the grieving process for the sudden death of my husband, which occurred in this week of the year. Amid the melancholy and the resurgence of memories prompted by the season, there has been something reassuring in the continuity of things such as Goose Fair: its familiar nature, the smells to be relished in the air, the promise of pleasure still to be had. But the ground beneath my feet feels less secure this year, and the process is harder.


My parcel’s keepers

I HAVE new rhythms, though — those of my neighbours: Hindu on one side of me, and Muslim on the other. Their festivals and celebrations have become part of my own calendar; and having good neighbours is a boon. I discover this afresh when I snatch a couple of September days away in the camper van. I’m exulting in a high wind on top of the moors when the ping of my phone indicates that I’ve fleetingly come into a rare place with a signal.

It’s a text from Muneeb to say that a courier left a parcel outside my front door, apparently all night. It’s vanished now; so he’s not sure whether one of the other neighbours has taken it in, and would I like him to check with them? It later turns out that Pauline across the road had the same concern, and rescued it, pre-empting Deepak and Bina and Geoff and Barbara, who’d also noticed it was there and were sounding alerts. I am feeling blessed.


Technical hitch

I AM worried about my top A — or, rather, the absence of it. Our annual diocesan choirs festival is inevitably moving online this October, and we have been invited to send in our individual video recordings of the hymn “All my hope on God is founded”, and the anthem “O Thou the Central Orb”, so that a genius can edit these to magic a full choir on screen.

I’m more mezzo than soprano these days, and also conscious that — despite the weekly set tasks from David, our choirmaster — my voice is thinner than it was before the lockdown. I’m wondering how obvious it’s going to be that I am actually miming the top A instead of there being the glitch in the recording which the momentary loss of sound might suggest.

A plea to the angels bright who wait at God’s right hand seems appropriate: “Assist my song; For else the theme Too high doth seem for mortal tongue.” I’m OK with the gentler ascent of the passage “Transforming day to souls unclean”. I manage the G, but then I’m on the top rung of the ladder leading to the A — the climactic words, “Now pure within, pure within”. There’s no place to hide.

I make several attempts, like a pole-vaulter approaching the bar. My troubles are compounded by the balancing act of listening to the accompanying track and metronome through my earphones on the mobile phone while simultaneously looking towards the camera on the iPad and the music on the stand. How I long for the release of physically singing with hymn book in hand and a full choir — something, like “Guide me, O thou great Redeemer”, that we can really rip into with joy together. It can’t come soon enough.


Bindings that tie

MEANWHILE, I am checking out hymns and tunes that would have been around in 1835-36, the time frame for a play that I’m writing about a recalcitrant clergyman and his Roman Catholic wife. My hopes for a scene-setting rendering of “Abide with me” are dashed, along with many others I’d hoped might slip into this period. Newman’s “Lead, kindly Light” (1834) just makes it, but the familiar tune to Lyte’s “Praise, my soul, the King of heaven” proves to be too late.

I am partly finding this out from a fat volume of Hymns Ancient and Modern Revised, given to me by a cleric, the late John Wooldridge, when he was having a reluctant cull of his groaning shelves. I am curious to know what his markings represent in the index of first lines. Most frequently it’s a black dot like a bullet point, but others have a horizontal red line against them, and still others a red squiggle or a tick. Approval? Censure?

It will remain a mystery — like all the things that I wish I had asked my parents. But there is something lovely about turning the pages of books frequently handled by those who are now deceased: more telling than a photograph, and with a continuity that’s bound to please.


Pat Ashworth is a journalist and playwright.

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