Inspired by the following Decamot items: trainers, garrotte, festival, wedding ring, school, mobile phone, Judge, taxi rank, sack of potatoes, John
Alex Rose was dragging a sack of potatoes into the entrance of No. 10, the delicatessen at the top of the High Street in Guildford. Packing up his shop at the end of the day was not a task he normally enjoyed.
Alex was one of those rare (and lucky) people who genuinely loved doing the job that paid the mortgage. He loved to research, sample and taste the best food and drink in the world and loved even more to share his knowledge and his wares with anyone with a palate (and a wallet) that could cope with it. His produce was carefully selected and priced to appeal to only the most appropriate clientele. Spreading the epicurean word he felt was his vocation. He lived for his business. His wife often joked that he loved it more than he loved her.
So it was normally with a certain amount of reluctance that he shut up shop. But tonight he was indulging in three more of his loves: Dvorák, live music, and his favourite musical festival of the year: The Proms. Tonight he would be enjoying, in person, a programme dedicated to Dvorák starting with his Opus 22, the Serenade for Strings, a piece he knew so well that, with a little effort, he could hear it in his head. He'd been imagining the first movement as he moved his merchandise in from under the awnings. Starting off with the lyrical main theme played back and forth between the violins and cellos:
daaa da da da de-da de-da, daaa da da da de-da de-da
And then a key change to introduce a dance-like theme. Just as his imagined first movement was coming to a close with three E major chords, he was brought back to the present by a loud voice that he knew only too well:
"Hey Alex, closing up a bit early today aren't we?"
"Yes. I'm off to London for an early evening concert."
Clive Jason was everything that Alex despised in a person: he was loud, he was brash, and he was gauche; in his opinion, the typical stockbroker (a job at which Clive excelled). It didn't help that they'd known each for years. They'd gone to the same school, in the same year. When in the Sixth Form, Alex had been delighted to be appointed a Prefect, only to discover that Clive had been made that year's Head Boy. When Clive had first popped into Alex's deli he had adopted an unwelcome familiarity with Alex. But he was a good customer, so Alex tolerated his taunts. Besides, Clive was particularly fond of, and seemed perfectly happy to pay an inflated price for, fine wine and fine food.
"So how's my favourite little grocer then?" said Jason, appearing not to notice that Alex was in a hurry.
"I'm very well, my boy," said Alex bristling. "Very well indeed."
"That's a bit pricey for spuds isn't it?" looking at the sack that Alex and moved to just inside the shop. "Even by your standards."
"They're La Bonnotte, I've just had them imported from Noirmoutier, on the West Coast of France. So, how may I be of assistance this evening?" asked Alex rubbing his hands together.
"The usual: A bottle of your finest plonk and some smelly cheese?"
"Did you have any particular wine in mind?"
"Got any chardonnay?"
"Most certainly not. But I do have a fine Chablis. It's made with the same grapes."
"So what's the difference?"
"OK. That’ll do. And what smelly cheese would you recommend with that?"
Alex winced at the thought.
"Roquefort has a robust flavour."
Alex reached into the cool cabinet and took out a very large disk of Roquefort cheese and placed it on the counter. He put on a pair of thin plastic gloves and removed the cover from the cheese preparing it for cutting. He picked up his double handled wire cheese cutter, and held one handle on the counter and lined up the other handle so the wire lay gently on top of the cheese.
"A little more."
Alex moved the second handle and looked up at Clive.
"That’ll do, thanks."
Alex cut the agreed amount and placed it on the scales. Clive nodded at the price. Alex quickly wrapped the cheese in greaseproof paper, and placed it on the counter next to the bottle of wine. He covered the end of the remainder of the Roquefort, placed it back in the cool cabinet, put the cheese cutter in the pocket of his apron, and removed the thin plastic gloves.
He rang up the total and Clive paid.
"Well, enjoy your show Alex."
"Yes, thanks. Enjoy your cheese."
02.Menuetto and Trio: Allegro con moto
With Clive Jason gone, Alex could finally lock up the store and get down to the station. He glanced at his watch and realised he could still catch the train if he hurried. He didn't have time to change into his smart shoes as he'd hoped, but given that he'd now have to run part of the way down North Street, his trainers would be more appropriate anyway. He slipped on his overcoat, closed and locked the front door of No 10, and at last he was on his way.
Two minutes later he was dashing passed the Royal Grammar School: How may times did I make this particular journey in my youth? And how many times being chased by Clive Jason? Alex had been the small, thin, weedy, bookish type. Clive had been the outdoorsy, rugby playing, athletic, bullying type. The one chasing the other was an inevitability.
He pushed these thoughts out of his head. Nothing was going to get in the way of him enjoying this concert. With a little effort he began to hear in his head the second movement of Dvorák's sublime piece, opening with a lively waltz. As he passed the Friary Shopping Centre several minutes later, he took the steps at a gallop that matched the trio in the music:
da-da da-da da-dee, da-da da-da da-dee, da-da da-da da-dee, da-da da-da da-dee
As he rounded the corner he could see that the lights at the pedestrian crossing were changing in his favour. A quick glance at his watch told him that he was going to make his train and he could allow himself to slow down to fast walk. By now his imagined second movement had moved on to a slightly melancholic version of the opening theme of the serenade.
Alex spotted several empty seats in the carriage nearest him as the train slowly rolled into Guildford station. He made a successful dash for one of them and sat down relieved. Now he could relax. As the train started to pull out of the station Alex decided to take his coat off so he could cool down a bit. But has he started to unzip, he realised he'd not taken his apron off. Embarrassed, he quickly pulled the zip back up to hide the offending item.
He cursed Clive Jason. If he'd not delayed him, he would not have forgotten to remove his apron before donning his jacket. He started to fidget with his hands. As he did so, he realised that his wedding ring was missing. He broke into a cold sweat. A droplet trickle down his back. How could he possibly have lost his wedding ring?
Then it came back to him: he'd left it on the counter in the deli. Phew! What a relief. He closed his eyes, rested his head back against the back on the seat and started to listen to the sound of the train as it sped across the rails. The rushing of the train from Surbiton, the penultimate stop, allowed him to imagine the fourth movement of the Dvorak’s serenade: a lively, hyperactive scherzo that echoed the main theme and trio played at double time.
de da-de da daa, de da-de da daa
The tune in his head was coming to a conclusion as the train pulled into Waterloo Station. He exited the carriage now filled with elation. He hurried down to the taxi rank and into the first cab without hesitation.
The driver said the traffic was heavy that evening, but moving steadily, if somewhat slowly. And yes, he had no doubt that they'd make it by 7:30.
In fact they made it with 10 minutes to spare. The line of promenaders had already started moving in through the door and into to the hall. Alex was soon standing at the back of a very slow moving queue. But that didn't bother him. In his head he could hear the tranquil and wistful fourth movement referencing the third theme of the second movement. Fairly slow and relaxed, but not as sedate as a Largo. A tender buffer between the vigorous third and fifth movements:
daaaaa daa daa daa dee-daa dee-daa
Just right to accompany a slow and gentle forward movement. And with two minutes to spare, he was at last in the hall.
The audience fell quiet as the members of the orchestra filed onto the stage. As the principal first violin walked onto the stage, there was a little polite applause. She walked over to the piano and played an A to which the orchestra started to tune their instruments. When they were quiet again, she closed the lid with a flourish which brought a chuckle from the audience members who knew that the piano was not required for Dvorák's first piece of the evening. She then joined the other first violins. An expectant hush fell over the audience, followed by a louder round of applause as Jirí Belohlávek strode onto the stage.
A bow to the audience. A turn to the orchestra. A gentle tap on the rail of the conductor's podium. And they were away: Czech conducting Czech composer.
Alex was immediately transported. The sublime opening sequence was even more beautiful than it had been in his imagination. He shuffled forward a little until he was three quarters of the way back from the stage and dead centre, the perfect spot acoustically. He closed his eyes and let the music wash over him.
Just as the final note of the first movement faded away the moment was ruined by a cacophony of throat clearing and the trumpeting of a nose-blower. Alex shot an evil glare in the general direction of the eruption. It was hard to judge exactly where the disturbance came from, but from the evidence of the odd nudge and apologetic gesture, he had a fairly good idea.
When the second movement started he was still a little distracted. After about a minute he was finally able to enjoy the music again. They were soon at the little gallop he loved:
da-da da-da da-dee, da-da da-da da-dee, da-da da-da da-dee, da-da da-da da-dee
But then he could see a movement out of the corner of his eye. The nose-blower appeared to be bobbing up and down, acceptable behaviour for the Last Night, but not for Prom 42. He would keep an eye on him.
As he watched, he realised that his hands had balled into fists, his nails digging into his palms. He shoved them into his pockets to try to relax them. As he did so, his right hand came into contact with the wooden handle of the cheese cutter he'd been using earlier to cut the Roquefort. This of course reminded him of his delay leaving No. 10 earlier that evening, and rather than enjoying the calming influence of the fourth movement, all he could think of again was the loutish Clive Jason.
The worst musical crime of all occurred towards the end of the fourth movement: a mobile phone went off and the bobber had the temerity to answer it. For nearly twenty seconds he had it clamped to his ear. A mobile phone was an outrageous affront. He had to do something about this philistine.
05.Finale: Allegro vivace
As the fifth movement started, Alex edged towards the perpetrator, his fists in his pockets clenching and unclenching the whole time. He had to act now and he had to act fast.
*****John Sullivan had only recently switched from Classic FM to Radio 3, and was still getting used to the etiquette. He had been to the Royal Albert Hall several times before to attend CFM Live concerts and knew, for example, that their habit of applauding between movements was frowned upon by Radio 3 aficionados.
At the end of the first movement he heard a few polite coughs, and next to him, a discrete nose blown as they awaited the start of the second movement.
Ah, so that's what you do, he thought to himself. I guess that prevents you from spoiling the music. Useful to know.
He was so relaxed in the second movement that he started to move his shoulders in time to the music when it got to the galloping trios. He didn't notice that his humming was audible until a neighbouring promenader nudged him. He nodded a silent apology and his face reddened.
During the third movement, he felt a tickle building in his throat. He knew he shouldn't cough while the musicians were playing, and so tried to suppress the urge until the next gap between movements. It was agony. He fidgeted from foot to foot as he tried to remember how the movement went and gauge how long it would be before the gap. He'd eventually hummed along quietly.
It was with great relief that the movement ended so he could finally let rip with a set of staccato coughs, and before he could stop himself, he also applauded with gusto. He instantly realised, and regretted, the faux pas when his were the only hands clapping.
When his mobile phone had gone off during the fourth movement, he was mortified. He was sure that he had put it on mute before the concert began. What made the matter worse was that the sheer number of promenaders squashed into that night's concert meant that it took an age for him to wriggle into the inside pocket of his jacket and extricate the phone. He then battled to reject the incoming call and place the phone in silent mode. All the while his hand, and the phone it was holding, was pressed up against his face.
By the time the fifth movement began, he was feeling thoroughly miserable. He didn't notice the promenader immediately behind him quickly wrap a cheese wire around his neck. Nor did he notice the makeshift garrotte being expertly, and swiftly, applied. All he felt as the concluding three chords of the last movement were played was a sudden burning line across his throat before blackness. Then nothing.
daaa daaa daaaaaa
Alex's movements were so expertly delivered that no one in the packed hall noticed them and John's lifeless body remained propped up by his fellow promenaders as the audience burst into spontaneous applause. Nobody noticed that one of their number had in fact died until after the pre-interval encore some 10 minutes later, by which point Alex Rose had made good his exit from the hall.
Such a shame, Alex reflected as he and trotted down Exhibition Road. I'll miss the Symphony from the New World in the second half.