In my panelled bedroom I played Debussy’s ‘L’Apres Midi D’Un Faun’ again and again on my clockwork gramophone.
In a more sacred vein I had already been appointed emergency organist to play, when the official incumbent Mr Mann was indisposed, amid the stone arches of Eye church.
I’d go down from the house to the church to practice, often by night. Practice was possible because Eye Church had been one of the first to install an electric pump to provide air for the organ, so I was spared the necessity of persuading one of my sisters to come out and stand in the vestry behind the organ and push the yard long wooden lever that pumped it.
The way from the house lay through the graveyard and on dark windy nights I went as fast as I could, feeling my way amongst the box tombs and topiary. I sensed there were wild ghosts and spirits among the yew trees and old stone tombs, I’d be fumbling to open the church door as quickly as I could because I reckoned inside I’d be safe and God was inside and then feeling for the switches that would illuminate the one distant light by the organ whose keyboards and pedals were hidden behind a red velvet curtain held up on brass rings.
The organ’s action at that time was pneumatic, air was blown along lead tubes, you pressed an ivory key and had to wait for what seemed ages for it to speak. The bellows, weighted down by bricks, leaked. They were said to have been vulnerable to attack by rats.
Sometimes, an ancient and modern hymn book, or ‘The Village Organist’ would fall from the music stand, activating the bass pedals with a sudden blast from one of the big ornamental gilt and green diapasion pipes at the front of the organ and sending clouds of dust up into the air above it.
Further into the church life-sized recumbent statues of crusaders slumbered in a special chapel used for services by Lord Cawley and his family.
The Cawleys walked across the fields from Berrington Park, a pedimented house a mile or so away, to come to church, across a specially constructed wooden bridge over the stream. We thought them quite grand to have their own private chapel but they actually could see very little of the action, they couldn’t see the rest of the congregation singing or the vicar as he preached.
My father became quite well-known for the deep sighs he emitted during church services. He always said he was unaware of these.
In this same church some sheets were sometimes tacked together and hung across the chancel arch. The vicar, who lived in a damp Tudor-revival vicarage on the hillside, had borrowed a large brass magic lantern that spluttered and spat and projected huge blurred images of the holy land onto the sheets. He pointed out significant items from these with a long stick.
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