Running away from school

When I first began to compose, around the age of 12, I received no encouragement. Nevertheless, my voice /idiom developed spontaneously under the influence of Messiaen as I learnt to play his intensely mystical organ music. What I wrote, now lost, aroused no interest either among my peers or teachers, one of whom was Allan Wicks, the organist of Canterbury cathedral and Messiaen's principal British protagonist.
But for me it touched the core of my creative being – & therefore I had the youthful experience that exposing what had meaning for me produced indifference in everyone I knew – including my parents who probably thought that composition was another phase that I would grow out of. This was later to give me a serious compositional block, since the pain of the inability to communicate by means of my music created an effective aversion therapy! [In this picture taken during Choir School scout camp, I am parading beside Oz Clarke, now better known for his oenophilia.]
Eventually this brought me to a crisis, which was essentially a crisis of my own authenticity /self-worth: the more I followed my calling, my creative daemon, the more isolated it made me. Since those sounds that seemed most real & vivid to me aroused to response, except embarrassment, where did reality lie? I was already in a parallel universe with, apparently, no tangent to that of others.
I decided that the only person who could understand me was Messiaen himself; so to Paris I went. I think it was just after Easter term 1963. But then, so alienated did I feel, I dared not speak to him – for to meet rejection from my god would have spelt the extinction of my last remaining beacon of hope. And I couldn't risk that, by the same token that the rules of chess forbid exposing one's king to check. To hazard one's dominant principle-principal is to court annihilation.

Having been to the Trinité twice to hear Messiaen improvise after High Mass -wonderfully- and seen him descend from the organ loft into a small sea of fidgety organophiles I knew I should never be able to approach him. Who was I? A 16 yearold with no credentials, nothing to offer, and unable to give an account of myself. How could tell him -in french- I needed him to save my life? And if my god were to spurn me I must necessarily embrace the devil of suicide with which I had flirted constantly for at least 3 years.
The Australian concierge in the little hotel in the Rue Vaneau (7ème), where I stayed on the recommendation of someone I'd met on the boat train over, suggested I went to Brive la Gaillarde. So why not? There was nothing for me in Paris. 40 years later I felt a savage recognition reading Rilke's account of his experiences in Paris 60 years before mine. All that was light and warm in humanity was a closed book to me. A neat irony, then, to go to a place whose name spoke of gaiety. I wrote poetry there that still exists in some notebooks somewhere.
Eventually I ran out of road. I had no psychic energy to project my consciousness across the void towards that of other people, nor any experience that would predict success. After three and a half weeks I got in touch with my parents, & my father came out to see me.

We had one of the few times of closeness we were ever to enjoy. He was open to me as he was never to be again except when we came to bid farewell to my mother a week before her death. Sadly, it was a measure of his inability to see what I needed that he encouraged me to stay and find work. He meant well, to encourage my independence, but anyone with half an antenna could have seen I was incapable of fending for myself. I accompanied him back to Paris, half thinking to return, half simply wanting his company. The journey, for which we bought first class tickets thinking it would guarantee seats, not understanding the french reservation system, ate up nearly all my remaining funds, as Id bravely insisted on paying my own way. I was left without enough money to return to Brive, let alone to live on. My money would stretch only to a ticket to Orléans, which was not even on the mainline south.
Some memories have stuck with me from my chambre de mansarde (garret room) in the cheapest hotel I could find in Orléans under the distrustful eyes of the flophouse Madame as I awaited a remittance from my parents, which I was sore at having to request. Maybe the mordancy of these memories has stayed with me because of not having eaten for 3 days – seeing prosperous bourgeois avocats spilling out from the courthouse in search of a gallic lunch in the tree-lined cafés around the Palais de Justice, and my having NO idea what life would be like a member of a human race I thought I was never destined to join.
Another was walking aimlessly throu a fair, possibly that evening, under the dusty trees of the market place. I'd found a sou in my pocket & been able to purchase a chew, which served only to madden my hunger. I really didn't know how I could go on living under any circumstances, even with food inside me. The fair was truly charming in those days before amplification with real live accordionists & little bal musette cafés – that I couldn't afford to visit. At one of them a gaggle of jeunes mooched by counter including a really beautiful girl, perhaps no more than 2 years -yet a whole world- older than me, who was evidently bored with being the arm candy of some spotty hoodlum. She turned to follow me as I walked, her eyes a bridge to that other world which I had no idea how to cross.
No woman had ever paid that kind of attention to me, certainly not one with her credentials. I was shocked with delight, yet it only made my isolation more intense – what import could any contact between us possibly have?
The other experience which occupied those 5 hungry days was making friends with the organiste du choeur of Orléans cathedral. A lovely /lonely semi-alcoholic who lived in one room in 18thC squalor in an 18thC apartment house near the cathedral. He had once had a piece played on Radio France by Jean Françaix, & this was his sole topic of conversation! His job was to accompany the choir on the humble organ in the chancel. He had no contact with the titulaire, the capital O-Organist, who played the splendid Cavaillé-Colle grand orgues at the west end, whose duties were merely to play solo pieces at grand liturgical moments, and who disdained his earthly colleag (who had once had a piece played on Radio France by Jean Françaix)!

The end of it was, the money came, I went back to Brive, collected by belongings & came back to England with my tail between my legs.
What I believe sustained me throu this dark period, and indeed brought two remarkable people across my path, were the prayers of my paternal grandmother. My Granny 'Ginger' was a genuinely beautiful woman at every period of her life. Her wedding picture shows her with a butterfly on her hand: she told me it was a real butterfly which had flapt into the photographer's studio at the exact moment he was ready to snap, paused on her hand for the photo, & flown away. To a person with her faith, there was nothing remarkable about this - that was how miracles happened, just everyday occurrences, that we were to be truly grateful for, but not to get particularly excited about.
I've always felt that my meetings, not long after my return, with Jane Clark Dodgson and the other really significant person in helping me back to a halfway normal life, Roger Wild, the vicar whose organist I became at the age of 17, were due to my Granny upholding me in prayer.
Before taking the cloth, Roger had been MD of Wild Aero Engines, a small independent manufacturer with a history going back to Spitfire engines, and he had Lived with a capital L, before experiencing a christian conversion under Billy Graham, and gradually realising he had a vocation as a priest. He was a visionary man of god, who filled what had been an empty church by simply making a space where it was safe for people to find personal answers.

He later married Clancy and me; but was gathered to his fathers not long afterward.

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