Some unexpected connections: my sister lives near Great Missenden in Buckinghamshire; in the High Street there is the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre, the home of the children’s and short story writer for 36 years until his death in 1990.
Tales of the Unexpected was a television series that ran between 1979 and 1988. The title and the initial run of episodes was based on a collection of short stories by Dahl. The prologue to his official biography is entitled Lunch with Igor Stravinsky: “Biographers were dreary fact-collectors, he argued, unimaginative people, whose books were usually as enervating as the lives of their subjects. With a glint in his eye, he told me that many of the most exceptional writers he had encountered in his life had been unexceptional as human beings. Norman Mailer, Evelyn Waugh, Thomas Mann and Dr. Seuss were, I recall, each dismissed with a wave of his large hand, as tiresome, vain, dreary or insufferable. He knew I loved music and perhaps that was why he also mentioned Stravinsky. “An authentic genius as a composer,” he declared, throwing back his head with a chuckle, “but otherwise quite ordinary.” He had once had lunch with him, he added, so therefore he spoke from experience”.
Stravinsky was a cosmopolitan composer emigrating from Russia, to Switzerland, France and the US, dying in New York City in 1971. In accordance with his wishes, he was buried in the Russian corner of the cemetery of Isola di San Michele, Venice. Knowing nothing of this at the time, it was a surprise to find him at rest in the late-afternoon winter shadows on this island of the dead. Flowers adorned his grave but their fragrance had long since faded:
There are other unexpected treasures in this vast cemetery but it does not pay to get too distracted – you would not wish to miss your last bus home:
Elbow’s Great Expectations
A call girl with yesterday eyes
Was our witness and priest
Stockport supporters club kindly supplied us a choir
Your vow was your smile
As we move down the aisle
Of the last bus home
And this is where I go
Just when it rains