Variations on a theme

Jack's blanketWithout Uncle Jonny, I should not understand as much as I do. He made me part of the collective memory, ensuring I too know the meaning of everything and everyone who came before us. When this afternoon we heard Terence Stamp choose Elgar’s Enigma Variations on Radio 3, the line of beauty evoked by his pictures revived stories of Great Malvern, one of Uncle Jonny’s favourite places; a world of wonder known well to Barnaby and Newman too, who are Midlanders unlike me. There were picnics by the British fort; walks round about it, once you got to the top – ears like banners in the wind – lunch at the Malvern Hills Hotel or tea at Warwick House or in the railway station with old-fashioned trains; and remember, if you were driving, it was not far to Ledbury and beyond, to Stoneberrow House, from there.  The plantswoman’s garden, bordering on an overgrown canal now housing piglets fit to pop; wild daffodils along the Poets’ Walk, the perry at the pub. Memories just kept coming, on cue cards showing faces from a dim and distant past: legendary Dickens Dogs, long taken from us, but yet to be written about, sleeping inside an ivy-clad hotel, walking in wind and rain; the greatest friend we ever had, taken from us, long gone and far away. The chain of thoughts runs down the spine of England as Nimrod fades away, long and glittering, like letters to Gascony from distant Northumberland; living, pulsing memories of the dear old friend, dead a full year after Jonny, with whom all this is twinned.  Eyes fill with tears, the sobbing starts and the paint brush is rested for a while.  ‘The last composer to be in touch with greatness,’ someone said of Elgar, and what we felt showed it was true.

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