The dreamtime of a ghost-seer

Reflections on the law and other things by a lawyer in autumn

(Serial form)

From about 1983 on, I usually found an excuse to go overseas at least once a year.  I had done the mandatory hitch-hiker’s guide to the Continent in 1966-7, but I wanted to see more of the world – and in rather more comfort.  Although I would do it hard down the back of the aircraft for about twenty years – until I resolved not to go long haul ever again unless I was at least in the middle of the aircraft.  I would usually attend a conference – and I did find it very helpful to swap notes with lawyers from all round the world – and when Blakes opened an office in London, that gave me another reason to go there.  I wanted to go to all the great cities, which I have done, and through multiple visits, to be able to feel quite at home in London, Paris, Berlin and New York.  I have done that, and I am very glad that I have.  Each of those cities is special for me.  My favourite may be Berlin – I am very fond of the Germans – but for business reasons, I visited London far more than the others.  And after the first couple of visits, I stayed at the Cavalry & Guards Club at the top of Piccadilly, opposite Green Park.  I loved the place, and it in turn gave me reason to keep returning to London.  I felt completely at home there – more so than at the Melbourne Club.  (The Guards had women members – as does the British army – and this may have helped me feel at home.  Both my daughters would stay there later.)  There is a club bar on the ground floor next to a courtyard garden.  Upstairs, there are two dining rooms.  Outside the main one, there is a lounge with comfortable armchairs in floral fabrics, standard lamps and small fires.  You have your cocktail there, order your meal, go in for dinner, and come back out for coffee.  London clubs recreate the atmosphere of home so well.  This is close to my idea of civilisation.  The breakfasts remain for me a joy forever.  The accommodation is basic – in the bachelors’ quarters it can be downright barbarous – but I have so many happy memories of my time there.  I will just mention two anecdotes that may help explain my great affection – love, even – for this club.  I flew in one day from Budapest.  It was a beautiful sunny day as we flew up low along the Thames and up to the west end.  I could just about point out the Cavalry & Guards Club over Piccadilly from Green Park.  You feel like tapping the pilot on the shoulder: ‘If you could put me down here, Sportsman, it would save a lot of buggerizing around on the ground.’  When I got to the Club, about three hours later, Peter, the porter, was on his own, shirt open, braces, and toast on.  You can fire a cannon through these places on the weekend.  I had known Peter for years and I was very fond of him.  He was at peace this day.  David Gower was in, and batting beautifully.  I got my key and lugged the bag up to the single quarters on the third floor.  Window on to Piccadilly; dunny 10 yards one way; bath – no shower – 10 yards the other way.  After a decent interval, I went back to see if there was a room free in the married quarters – where there are showers – en suite.  But the mood was very different.  The toast has burnt, and Gower was out – the bludger!  I asked Peter about the married quarters.  He gave me a very pained look and said ‘You don’t want to change rooms already, do you?’  Well, shit, of course not.  The very idea was ridiculous.  I sloped off to the RAF Club just up the road for a couple of heart starters and a meal in the Buttery.  A few years later, I went down to my Club for breakfast on a Saturday – a real innovation for the Club.  Two youngish gentlemen were sitting near me – immaculate in pin-striped civvies with regimental ties on Jermyn Street shirts – under regimental haircuts.  They were obviously cavalry officers.  They were about to resume rehearsing a ceremonial event across the park – at Buckingham Palace – possibly the Trooping the Colour – I don’t know.  One of them appeared to be finding the whole thing very tricky – and I hoped that Her Majesty’s security did not rest on his shoulders alone.  As they got up to leave, he bent over and picked up a sugar cube.  ‘Take a piece of sugar for the horse.’  Well, moments like that make the whole bloody thing worthwhile.  You can’t dislike people who do that.

*

The style of London clubs may be exportable.  It has certainly affected the way I Live now.  When I went back to the bar, I had a five year annuity from Blakes to help with the transition.  They were sensibly generous.  I could afford to set up chambers as I wished.  In my first manifestation, I had been consumed by the need to build what for me would be the best library possible – especially on legal history, which was and is a large part of my intellectual life.  I spent a fortune on law reports – all made next to useless by computers.  I was determined to abandon the old style partner’s desk and bookshelves.  I bought a wooden roll-top little desk to go against one wall.  It went with two dining chairs in bright lined fabric, one for me, and one for a client.  There were three wing chairs in floral fabric and one low armchair in a fine fabric with the badge of Florence.  There was a sofa in mahogany leather, two lamps, two coffee tables and a small bookshelf with a CD player.  The walls were festooned with seriously good aboriginal paintings, framed photographs and contemporary art.  It was a very comfortable place to work and talk in.  Brendan Griffin drilled the walls to plug the paintings.  A lot of that is now at home in Malmsbury where I have two large living rooms separated by double doors.  I call the décor of the main room ‘1948 Paris Dambusters.’  There are the winged chairs in floral fabric, and the Florentine armchair; a small oak drop side table with two dining chairs with ridiculously expensive fabric with Chines motifs; a sofa in faded Sanderson linen; a wooden cabinet with painted doors to hide the Grundig TV; about five little lamps each with its own style and memories; a large stylish white Ikea bookshop with the best books described in the four books I have written about; two coffee tables; a Chines style cocktail cabinet, and two smaller wooden cabinets, both with painted figures; one standing sculpture; various ornaments from all over the world; another bookshelf with books of distinction; a display of the operas and jazz musicians I live on; serious paintings of aboriginal and pop art – the latter may well be my favourite; A Marantz player with two English speakers in white on the Ikea shelf; and works on paper by Blackman, Boyd, Nolan, Percival, Smart, Storrier and Williams – and a small framed original cartoon of Keats; and a mask from India and one from Venice.  The adjoining room is similar, with another sofa in floral fabric, two wing chairs in toile, and the mahogany desk that my mum and dad got made for me in Hong Kong in 1963.  The idea is to surround and secure myself with what I live for.  It works and I love it.

*

In  reading a very full biography of Karajan by Richard Osborne, a man who really knows his subject, I was struck by the similarity between the roles of a conductor and of a coach of AFL or rugby.  They want to get the best out of their men, singly and as a group, but there may well be a reserve of raw fear.  Playing in an  orchestra may not be brutal on the body as well as the mind, but there is a hell of  a lot on the line in training, effort, name and money.   I have seen Craig Bellamy, of Melbourne Storm, with his men in what would be called his soft, frank paternal side when they were at the lowest ebb a footy club could ever get to.  (They had just been belted for dishonest breaches of the salary cap and their season was over.)  But I have also seen grown men drop their voice after they had felt his anger.  Mr Osborne has one musician saying of Karajan ‘you were always afraid that one day he might suddenly turn.’  Mr Osborne says Karajan did not humiliate people but:

Since Karajan never raised his voice much above the semi-audible mutter, rebukes, when they came, put the fear of God into players.  The silence was so intense you could hear a mute drop two blocks away. By contrast, singers or orchestra players who threw tantrums were studiously ignored.

Karajan, it was said, affected not to notice when during a long  rehearsal of the slow movement of Beethoven’s Fifth, one cellist took off, saying ‘That’s it.  I’ve had enough.’  Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, the leading soprano of her generation, said Karajan was like a cat, ‘sleek and attractive but capable of suddenly lashing out.’  Mr Osborne is gentle and discrete about one difference to Mr Bellamy.  ‘There were girls as well…Floosies came and went.’  Well, the Italians do not have exclusive rights there.  And we are told that after a long day, Karajan liked nothing better than a light supper and then lying on the floor to watch the Marx Brothers.   An English viola player felt exalted and honoured to be asked home to dinner with the Italian maestro in New York.  Toscanini wolfed down his pasta and chianti, and retired to watch TV wrestling – with the most fruity, obscene abuse straight out of the Brooklyn gutter.  The maestro was a man after all.

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