Friday, 26 August 2016

I Get Into Mahler

I have always liked the name Gustav.  When I won a panda (a toy one) at the Gothenburg Funfair in 1982, this was the name I chose.  However, I have held a prejudice against Gustav Mahler until this evening.

Kahlil Gibran says of children that you may "give them your love but not your thoughts".  This is a great sentiment, and I try to live by it, but it's not exactly true.  I'm pretty sure my thoughts about Mahler came from my parents - he's conspicuously absent from their vinyl collection, which I treasure.  For as long as I can remember I've assumed him to be too grandiose for good taste, too ostentatious, loud and long.  So I have avoided him, though I made an exception once and listened to Das Lied Von Der Erde because someone told me it was good.

This evening, I listened to Mahler's symphony no. 2 for what I think must be the first time.  And I listened to it loudly, because my younger son put on his new CD and he was therefore in charge of the volume control.  We listened to symphony no. 1 earlier in the week.  There are 8 more to go.

I listened to Mahler whilst drinking some of my brother's home made wine. It would seem that home made wine is an excellent antidote to prejudices, including those about home made wine.

Mahler's work seems to have been written to keep musicians gainfully employed - including 4 flautists, 10 trumpeters, a choir, 2 (two!) harpists and "the largest possible contingent of strings".  It lacks restraint, and it is known as The Resurrection.  

I found The Resurrection just as implausible, grandiose, ostentatious and long as I'd been warned - and I found it to be absolutely wonderful. 

Monday, 8 August 2016

I Hear A Story

I am in the middle of reading Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery.  It's a series of short narratives in which neurosurgeon Henry Marsh gives insights into what it's like to operate on brains and spinal cords - on a patient's essence and function. 

I have learnt, more than anything else in my time working in the human services of social care and education, that it's important that stories told for learning from the truth of someone else's experience are listened to.  There's a power in the telling and a power in the hearing and the being heard. 

In Marsh's case, amongst the horrors of and wonders of tumours, speech gain and loss, recovery and death, he needs to tell us about the humanity of his doubt in the face of many of the decisions he has to make.  He hides neither the necessity for confidence-verging-on-arrogance required for cutting into brains with a steady hand, nor the humility and sense of inadequacy he has accumulated over a lifetime's experience of mending, curtailing - and sometimes worsening - the injuries caused by disease and accident.  He writes of the conversations, the impossible conversations, he has to have with patients and families - of the importance of being straightforward whilst not extinguishing all hope.

I'm finding it hard to put down this book, so when I woke early on Sunday, I began to read where I'd left off, heavy-eyed, the night before.  Then I remembered with irritation that I needed to get up to move my car before the traffic wardens' round began.

The morning was clear and scattered with clean sunshine, and I was suddenly glad to have been forced up and out.  There were two other people in the street - a council employee bent to the task of sweeping up after the night before, and a man walking towards me, pushing a bike.  I didn't recognise the cyclist, but as soon as I saw him, I knew he had something to tell me.

As if stepping from the other side of Marsh's pages, he began the story of how his son had been involved in an accident the day before, how it had happened, how he'd been rescued from worse, and how, even now, he was being prepared for an operation.   He told me what the doctor had explained about paralysis, how he'd had to keep it together since everyone else in the family had been so upset.  The story was so new to him, so much in need of telling now, right now, that it spilled out as if he were crying: his son's life saved, but broken in an instant.

Today, I am still thinking of the chapter of the cyclist's story - his telling it to me in the quiet, bright streets of a summer's morning, how he may need, in all weathers, to tell and retell the story of his son as part of the way in which he can try to make it into a shape that is easier to carry.