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A flat key holding a flat key?

In this case the key is A flat major. Jean was playing the piano while waiting for the arrival of our grandchild for a morning of joy. She started playing the A flat major slow movement of Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata. Not unexpectedly I heard it in A major. I repeated the experiment I have chronicled before: I came up next to her and looked at her fingers playing all the flats and my sense of the key change back to A flat major without any change in the actual sound.

Two days later we were privileged to attend a piano recital by David Earl. First on his list was that Pathetique Sonata. It is in C minor which has remained (so far) one of the strong keys for me. So the first movement was thoroughly satisfying in this questing minor key. I wondered what would happen to the slow movement. I needn’t have worried – it was wonderfully held in A flat major even after the intrinsic modulations that Beethoven incorporates, right through to the gentle chords at the end. And of course the Finale stayed in C minor always through.

David Earl follow the Beethoven with some Chopin Impromptus. The first one was the A flat major one which carried on the tradition of sounding in the key. The test came with the F sharp major Impromptu. F sharp major is a weak key, and I fully expected to hear things in G major, a semitone up. This did not happen until the key changed in the D major central section. Things went awry at this point as D major rapidly shifted into E flat major which it tends to do these days. And from then on the the rest of the Impromptu was in the wrong key. And the C sharp minor Fantasy Impromptu which followed did something most disturbing: it started in D minor and the middle section was in D major. This totally altered the feeling of the piece, disappointingly. It almost made a nonsense of it.

Schumann’s Carnaval was to come in the second half of the recital. This is entirely in flat keys with A flat major as the base key. It is one of my favourite musical suites and I have enjoyed playing it to the best of my ability on the piano. I know how the pieces feel under the fingers. So when David started playing in what seemed to be A major, I thought I would be in for over half an hour of further disappointment. However as the first section was coming to an end, I saw his finger playing a white note where A major would have had a black note. And miraculously the music transmuted back into A flat major. Every one of the miniatures from then on was in the correct key and I had a wonderful Carnaval experience.

The flowers that bloom in the spring

Little pink flowers have appeared in Cape Town’s grass verges. There are carpets of white daisies on the side of Signal Hill. First signs of spring. Oh no! This was written when our dams were almost empty after yet another winter of failed rains. Happily in spring 2019 things are looking better, but we have been warned..

The flowers that bloom in the spring Tra-la

Breathe promise of hellish sunshine.

As they merrily pout and they preen Tra-la

It’s drought and parched dryness they mean Tra-la:

A summer of bowsers in line

Yes, a summer of bowsers in line.

So that’s what I think when I say that a thing’s

Unwelcome as flowers that bloom in the spring.


Unwelcome as flowers in spring.

(With apologies to WS Gilbert)

Vote for me! A manifesto from the womb.

I am dictating this article on Freedom Day 2019. It is 25 years since my mother-to-be was born, a freedom baby. My due date is May 8th 2019, Election Day. I am likely to come into the world as you are voting. How are you going to vote? Will you vote? Will you think of me?

I won’t have a vote. Nor will about 20 million children in South Africa. I wonder how much you have thought about us as you think about your vote? Because your choice plays a part in determining our future, you should, I think.

I know that it is not so easy to choose how to vote in 2019. I feel my mother’s stress hormones every time she thinks about it. This is on top of the other stresses she feels from money and food worries, violence etc.. We depend quite a bit on government grants and free services to get by. In that way we are not exceptional: more than 60% of South Africa’s children live in very poor households. I feel stressed too.

Vote for me! Vote for us! Not-so-easy, you say. I agree. Let’s think about it.

Not to vote is a cop out: a negative statement of the heart, not a thoughtful action. It won’t help me to grow up in a better environment than my mother did. Don’t abandon hope.

Spoil your vote? Perhaps in a local election as a protest where all the candidates are disasters, but to do it in the national election would be the equivalent of not voting.

Tactical or specific vote? I see these as equivalent (just because I am small, don’t assume that I cannot think). So the next question is ‘heart or head?’. I think you know how I think – it’s heads every time. An emotional vote will increase the chances that either the extremists or the old guard will increase their power – to be avoided! An emotion-led vote is also more likely to be a selfish use of your vote: ‘me and mine’ before ‘country and community’. Even if you are emotional about the difficult lives that so many of South Africa’s children live, you need to turn that into a thoughtful voting response. No cross crosses on Election Day, please!

So let’s think together. How much is your vote for you, and how much is it for others? As a future citizen of South Africa, I urge you to consider the future of all children in South Africa above yourself – and not only your own children, if you are in the minority of well-off South Africans. The median income of South African households is about R1 200 per person per month. Are you in the 50% of people who are below or above this line? Most children are below this line. Look across the line and think.

What would a vote with children (the voteless) in mind look like? It would be one that would increase the likelihood that our best interests would be served. That from conception through infancy, childhood, adolescence and adulthood our physical and emotional development, our resilience, our education, our health and our opportunities (including the disabled among us) would be given the best chances. So very many of us are losing out on these things in 2019. Vote for change. Even, change your vote!

So what would need to change? We need a much less unequal society. There are millions of have-nots who have almost nothing, like my mother. For almost all of us, this is not our fault. Not to vote with this in mind is to recklessly wreck millions of children’s futures – and wreck the country as this situation is a breeding ground for dangerous demagogues and communal violence.

Apart from being an effect of our history, 25 years of crazy levels of inequality (a lot of it led by unemployment) relate to greed and its first cousin, selfishness. Too many ‘haves’ have and hold. Economic growth, even if we had it would not be enough to overcome gross inequality on its own. More must be shared. I don’t think that most ‘haves’ see their having as greed. If you don’t believe that it is, ask the planet (but more of that later). Let’s call it ‘unintended selfishness’, being generous but firm.

Greed also results in persistent inequality via corruption: those who steal and cheat and those who encourage them to do so and benefit thereby. The huge economic toll of grand graft leaves insufficient resources for our many pro-poor policies, including those that could increase youth employment.

That brings me to poor governance. What is the use of progressive laws and policies if, through corruption, weakness and incompetence, their fruits are never tasted? Economic growth, employment prospects and greater equity are strangled at birth. My birth! You might as well strangle me.

(I continue to dictate from the safety of the womb.)

What else needs to change? Almost every aspect of the environment I am to be born into! Pervasive violence and abuse. Only policing it better (I hear a lot about this in election discussions from inside here) will not get at the root causes. Inequality and broken communities need fixing. Who is talking about community mental health interventions? They are not in any party manifesto. It is the same for drugs (including alcohol and nicotine) in my future environment. My mother doesn’t drink or smoke. She doesn’t let anyone who smokes get near me. Thank you, mama! And here we find greed again – tobacco companies and drug barons, for example.

Passing over air pollution, plastic waste and chemical toxins (I wish I could – they are everywhere), I move to a change that will blight my life if it itself is not changed – climate change. My future and that of South Africa’s children is bleak indeed if you don’t vote for change, and change yourself. I’m talking to you ‘haves’ mainly: what you have is unaffordable.

So inequality, unemployment, greed and selfishness, poor governance, our environments and climate change. All needing change if children are to thrive in South Africa. Where will you put your cross?

In choosing a party or a person (even if you vote for another to get what you want i.e. tactical voting), what do I suggest that you look for?

Honest and people-centred leadership (no demagogues in there – that narrows the field!), track record and the spirit of the party or personal manifesto. The manifesto-writing can be clichéd, derivative and trite (unlike my dictation, I hope), but there may be vital positives and negative pointers in them, so have a look – sometimes between the lines. All three of these are unlikely to be found in any one party or candidate, so weigh up the pros and cons of these three essential considerations for your vote.

Mr Smiley’s party manifesto says many things that are good for children and has done many good things for us while in government. They have signally failed on the good governance front in recent times allowing grand theft from the young and our futures, as well as huge slippage through incompetence and greed at municipal level. And Basic Education? Do you think Mr Smiley’s team can change tack and call its troops to order?

One party took the EFFrontery of poverty and inequality and turned it into a form of politics whose radical EFFrontery would have us join Zimbabwe with an economy unable to get off its knees, if their manifesto and shouting is their true intention as a party in government. They say they will give me and all children a tablet to use when I go to school, and many things like that. Mama is thinking of voting for them. Think, mama. Vote for me!

What about the da DA? I like their children-specific claims and aims – first thousand days, early childhood development, education (also found in Mr Smiley’s manifesto) – but I really hesitate at their reactionary health policies. Not child-friendly. Nice energy and climate friendly policies, Mr M. But I worry about your big business links. Is tackling inequality really in your sights. Will your partners (predominantly ‘haves who want to hold’) give you the leeway to improve living wage employment? Better marks for governance (but blotted your copybook with your silly wranglings in the Cape). I might suggest that people give you a thought for local government and be tactical for national.

I can’t give space to all regional, sectional, personality-driven and weirdo parties. (It is nearly time for my sleep). Avoid the religious ones. Mainly use these smaller parties for tactical votes, unless the candidate is a great soul. If you want a flutter and really care about climate change and children and you live in the Western Cape (where they are on the list), you might give the Green Party a nod. Their policies are even more radical than the EFF’s – radicalism is required in this arena. Your votes are meaningless if, by 2030, we all are headed for environmental catastrophe anyway. You can ‘vote for me’ by being decisively green whoever you vote for. Out with coal before I turn 11! Nice to see this sentiment in other manifestos – carbon-free is becoming mainstream in thought. Now for action, those who win on Election Day!

So, please vote on my birthday. A thinking vote. A vote for my future and the future of all South Africa’s 20 million children.

Thanks for reading my manifesto from the womb.

Vote for me! Thank you!

See you soon.


Easter Day 2019

Chris Hani 1993. Sri Lanka 2019.

Darkness tries to extinguish Easter light.

Guns blaze, bombs flash,
using light to bring death
                     on Resurrection Day

Hate spits its fire into the Easter dawn;
Hellfire, to burn down pillars of hope;
To bring nation-building crashing down,
To smother hope in the smoke of destruction.

hope cannot  die
hope will not die 
light cannot be extinguished
light will not be extinguished

Hate, hellfire, destruction, death – all are broken!

This is the victory of Easter
This is the power of Easter

Hold the line.

An interesting juxtaposition

Where are we headed as humanity? I rather enjoy books that look back, look the present in the eye and look forward. Jared Diamond’s books are a good read, giving pause. Collapse gives climate change a grim context. Alvin Toffler’s Futureshock I read when I was a teenager. I only remember the ‘Mozart on the run’ chapter now: we were playing music at ever faster speeds, he told us.

I have just completed reading Yuval Harari’s Homo Deus, having found it on my son’s bookshelf last year. A fascinating read, the book analyses trends in early 21st century science, thought and especially digital developments. There are twin theses: humans are not special, and we are moving towards a world (a galaxy?) in which humans (merely a set of algorithms) are either unnecessary or a means to an end for silicon – based artificial intelligence (AI) for which consciousness is an optional extra. Harari does not say that this de-humanised future is inevitable; he points to its possibility and implications for the present.

The book is large so I did not take it on my overnight trip for child health-related meetings in Johannesburg. I opened my Free Books app and started to read The Machine Stops by EM Forster that I had previously downloaded. There we are ‘in the Machine’, satisfied on a diet of all that we want (if we hadn’t been weeded out at birth), including tablets to establish emotional equilibrium and peace of mind. Humans live on their own, underground sequestered from each other. The surface is no longer fit for human habitation – climate change or pollution? We were happy with the Machine. We even give it god-like properties.

Climate change, elites working with AI to survive, then taken over by AI. 1909, 2016 – an artist and a social commentator/analyst/future gazer imagine and see a lot in common. Only connect.

For me as a Christian, I relish the double- even triple-think that going into Forster’s and Harai’s territory requires. AI would understand. Double-think, of course, is an invention of George Orwell in another dystopia – 1984. Perfectly legitimate and approved of by the authorities.

Samson is Strong

Well, technically it was Delilah in this instance. I was driving to the accompaniment of Delilah (in the form of a Russian mezzo-soprano) singing ‘Mon coeur s’ouvre a ta voix’, from Saint Saens’ opera ‘Samson and Delilah’, with its sinuous descending scale tune. I was enjoying the composer’s wonderful skill and the soprano’s interpretation thereof when it occurred to me that I was hearing it in Saint Saens’ chosen key of D flat major. No suggestion of neighbouring D major. Samson and I were seduced by D flat major all over again.

Harold Westwood RIP

My father died on October 5th 2016.

Here is the Eulogy I gave at the funeral.

It is, of course, a privilege to be able to deliver a eulogy on my father, Harold Hughie Westwood Esq – I thought that the word ‘eulogy’ was derived from two Greek words, ‘good’ and ‘word’. But as my father would have told me and my daughter did tell me, the ‘eu’ is a prefix rather than a word. So a eulogy. Not a panegyric (another Greek-derived word) because, wonderful as he was, dad was not perfect and, for the sake of old boys of Plumtree school (known as Old Prunitians or OPs), I must not hold back from pointing out just a few imperfections, as he freely would point out theirs. As Roy Jones, ex-pupil and former colleague, has perceptively pointed out, dad was ‘one-of-a-kind’. Yet I wonder if this son of the English Midlands (or the Black Country as he delighted to call it when living in central Africa), if this Oxford graduate in the Greats ( Latin and Ancient Greek) would have developed this unique set of characteristics if Felix had not dragged him from his native soil and planted at him in the tropical sun she sought, on the edge of the Kalahari Desert – the little town of Plumtree

As I think back to dad’s intellect and cleverness, his ability to absorb facts like a sponge and marshal them into squadrons, I can imagine him as an Oxford don with students around him being challenged, affronted and delighted. What he got under the Rhodesian and Zimbabwean sun forced a different response from him, but it was no less challenging, affronting and (from the many comments from OPs over the years and in the days since he died) delightful to the teenage sons of the central African soil among whom he was transplanted.

This brings me to important aspect of HHW’s nature – a lack of ambition. A quiverful of curiosity, but no driving sense of impetus or direction. Do what you do well, yes, – ambition with a small ‘a’ certainly – but the aim is not to get ahead. Hence the 39 years given to where he landed in 1958, what he found there. Bravo, I say! Turn ambition on its head and we have enviable capacity for contentment.

Of course there is another factor in this ‘one-of-a-kind’ equation and that is Felix. With mum behind him and next to him with her energy, her restless energy, his remarkable gifts – verbal, intellectual, creative, imaginative, – saw expression in the Plumtree milieu – plays at school and with the Plumtree Players, play readings, writing playlets and sketches, articles, clever words; producing dozens of musicals turning boys into maidens, ruffians into love-lorn heroes; and the church, the school as a whole, our home that welcomed everybody – so much was done, given – achieved even, but dad would never have accounted these achievements in a notching up kind of way. That wasn’t his style. Ask him to teach French, History to help out – of course and with aplomb. He even coached waterpolo for a term though he’d never learnt to swim!

Harold and Felix, Felix and Harold – yes!, Remarkable, God-given. Immensely appreciated by so many.

Now I’d like to close the doors and bring your Harold and Felix into the home; father, mother, 4 children. Hush the busyness of school life – the bells, the choir practices, house duties, the societies – out please, it’s just us now. Family time.

Dad is reading Robin Hood to Peter for the Nth time, changing the words to side-splitting effect. An audibly vigorous and typical riff-like pat of Honey, the labrador. Oh, but now it is time for the news on the BBC World Service. Oh no, they’ve got their facts wrong again! Dad rubs his hands together, the manual equivalent of grinding his teeth. There will be a letter to the BBC in consequence. Maybe they’ll read it out on air. Once they phoned dad for his viewpoint. Now dad has made a wonderfully fluffy cheese omelette. Come suppertime there will not be a scrap left on his plate, a wartime habit. Dad enjoyed his food to the days before he died.

Now dad has gone into the garden. He is standing next to his dahlias, as tall and upright as he is. Now the mielies – his ‘corn is as high as an elephant’s eye’, as Matthew Silcock was trained to sing in 1968. Next it is to tend his prolific veggies, and inspect his beloved compost. Contentment again, no hurry, no rush. Now there’s a broken teapot lid to be glued – delight indeed. Next a chair needs repair. Etc etc, to quote Henry Olonga in The King and I.

Shift the focus a bit and Harold’s 4 children are married: he has acquired 4 outlaws, two of whom (fittingly) are OPs. Now, to misquote the Pirates of Penzance, comes a train of little laddies – seven grandsons and three granddaughters. I think dad was a little more comfortable with these young people once they were verbal and able to have conversations than when they were at their vigorous noisy preschool age. A particular delight to him came last year when Sarah and Ursula won scholarships that allowed them to follow him to Oxford University, 70 years on. And then this year in pops the tiny Quinn, Alex’s grandchild. Dementia could not dull dad’s connection with this little bundle.

But dementia performed the Benjamin Button act on dad – as it progressed his life connections (apart from direct family) moved backwards. In the difficult final months, Cape Town disappeared, Bulawayo faded, Plumtree’s details grew dim. We find ourselves before Oxford in his last weeks, dad riding his bicycle around central England as in his youth – an explanation for the 89 years achieved by largely sedentary adult, perhaps – and at the end he asked Peter when his father (an undertaken by the way) – when his father was coming. Well, dad, I believe you’re now with your two fathers who art in heaven. Happy thought.

As I draw to a close, some apologies & some thanks.

To all the blithering idiots, morons and cretins who seemed to pepper Plumtree school in dad’s time, my apologies. I remonstrated with him after I encountered a flesh and blood cretin at medical school. To those who sometimes couldn’t get a word in edgeways, I sympathise. He met his match in Joan Suttle! To those whose anecdotes I could not include, apologies, but there will be time enough for those many stories from many people.

Our thanks to many, many people, friends, colleagues, pupils. What a rich life you gave to dad. To Rosedale, who gave Felix and Harold a new community after the dislocation of Zimbabwean refugee-hood. To Ward and Sheila Jones who took them in at the start of that traumatic time. To St Thomas’s Church – another home from home provided. Dr Charlie Miller, consummate family practice and personal care – thank you so much. To the staff at Doordrift Lodge – you knew dad in the most difficult two months of his life. Your professionalism and warm care despite his anger and intolerance is so very much appreciated by the family. Special thanks to the old Prunitians who stayed in contact and supported dad and mum over many years, and have said and written such wonderful things about dad in his last days. To Peter and Caroline and what you have done for dad and mum since illness separated them, and long before: you have demonstrated all the fruits of the Spirit, most especially patience and love. Thank you from all of us. To mum – you were the pole star in dad’s life. He could never have been who he was to all of us without you. 61 years of marriage and the time before that is evidence of an exceptional relationship, not always peaceful – you had to harry Harry at times, didn’t you? – but always deeply committed and generous.

The last words, good words, I give to dad:

My favourites among his many rhymes: new words for ‘Rapture, rapture’ from The Yeomen of the Guard for George Meakin and Johnny Silcock to sing to a delighted Beit Hall: ‘Georgie Porgy quite uncivilly kissed the girls and made them snivelly’. Written in the guestbook of my aunt and uncle, Ursula and Frank Allen, who lived in a hamlet in Scotland called Machrihanish: other spots like acne vanish when you’ve been to Machrihanish.

And to be fair to dad’s character as known to many of us, I read in toto (Latin ablative case, but also his nickname from me for a while, forgotten till I came to write this) – I read in toto one of the letters that made him famous (or infamous) in Rhodesia and Zimbabwe, and lately in Cape Town. The Bulawayo Chronicle eventually refused to publish HHW so he used pseudonyms (another word derived from ancient Greek) but the style was always recognisable. Behold the man:

Your correspondent asserts that the name Africa isn’t African. The Afri lived in what is now Tunisia and the land was called Africa by the Romans, a name which spread as their knowledge of North African spread, as Libya might have if Alexander the Great had lived. Knowledge of the continent halted at the Sahara for centuries. So Asia was a small kingdom in what is now Turkey (Asia Minor), bequeathed to Rome by its ruler Attilus in 133 BC. Africa only existed when the Cape was circumnavigated by Diaz. It was a close thing; the Arabs coming the other way might have called it Kaffiristan, the land of the unbelievers. The Portuguese and Dutch got the word from them.

Continents are oddly named. Europe is named after a Middle Eastern woman who fled west to escape rape. America is named after Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian mapmaker, his name being latinised. Australasia was named the land of the south wind from Auster, the Mediterranean breeze. Antarctica faces the great North Bear. Open bracket – in Greek, arctos – close bracket, full stop.

Harold Westwood

Chopin’s Preludes for the Piano

I think that I have done this before: listen in sequence to Chopin’s 24 Preludes for piano while documenting the keys that they sound in. The opportunity came today while listening to Through the Night on the BBC Radio 3 website.

So here we go, starting with the Prelude in C major (if it was):

  • C major – solid, no change
  • A minor – solid, no change
  • G major – ditto
  • E minor – ditto
  • D major – shifted to E flat major as the opening material re-appears a few bars into this short piece
  • B minor – solid, no change
  • A major – here this little jewel was set its A major ring
  • F# minor – this furious piece had moved into G minor by the end
  • E major – was in F major (though with significantly more sonority than I associate with F, a weak key sonically
  • C# minor – D minor with a feeling of sharps around
  • B major = C major
  • G# minor = A minor
  • F# major = G major
  • E flat minor – moved to E minor half way through
  • D flat major (Raindrop) – D major with middle section in D minor rather than the C# minor it is written in
  • B flat minor – this wild composition was of uncertain tonality except where a few bars should have been in D flat major and were in D
  • A flat major – the song was in A major at the start. At the recapitulation of the tune it sounded in A flat but felt as if it was courting disaster until the last section where it was fully A flat major – perhaps the effect of the pedal low A flats in the left hand
  • F minor – no key identifiable
  • E flat major – largely undefined but occasionally the colour of E flat was discernible. It did end in E flat.
  • C minor – solid chords of C minor
  • B flat major – in key including the G flat major section
  • G minor – the first note of this Prelude is the B flat of the previous Prelude, so heard in sequence this was grounded in its flat key
  • F major – no threat
  • D minor – indeed, ending with 2 powerful Ds at the bottom of the piano.

I wonder how this compares to my previous exercise with these Preludes (heard on an aeroplane flight, I seem to remember)?

A minor second

A minor second is the musical term for the two notes that are next to each other on the 12 note ‘chromatic’ scale. The descriptions in this series of posts are of the changes I am experiencing as my auditory apparatus and my brain are moving all my hearing of music up a minor second – or a semitone, the term I have used in these posts till now.

My use of the term ‘minor second’ in this post represents my marking of a significant milestone in this journey. The odl note is gone; the new note one step up has taken over. Colonised first and now wiped out the original inhabitant. Genocide.

In the last month or two, a majority of pieces in my weak keys (those that have been most prone to the gradual change I have been describing)  now start out in the new key, a minor second up from their written key. There is now no equivocation, no variation. From the first note or chord, the pieces are in their new key and there they remain. The first piece to do this, I noted, was Elgar’s Salut d’Amor. F major instead of the E major he chose as the key of love for his wife. E major has been in the vanguard of these changes, but is no longer alone in being a ‘lost’ key.

Yet all is not lost. It will be lost, but it is not yet. Yesterday I started listening to the Finale of Dvorak’s New World Symphony half way through. The recapitulation of the slow second subject on the celli was in F major. It should have been in E major, but I was not surprised at how I heard it. Yet when Dvorak had returned to E minor, the symphony’s key, in the Coda, I heard it as E minor. TO end the symphony he switches from the minor to the major. E major stuck till the end of the movement – a feature i have noted before, and has not (yet) changed.

By chance the next piece on the FMR playlist was a Mozart aria from Don Giovanni. The soprano sang brilliantly in E major. But I knew that she was cheating – well, she wasn’t, my brain was: Mozart wrote it in E flat major. This borrowed E major I don’t want. It is a minor second fake.

Alleluia, sing to Jesus (Hyfrydol) – F major

A wonderful Welsh tune used not only for Alleluia, Sing to Jesus.

These B flat trumpet parts are moderately difficult. The descant is Betty Pulkingham’s.

Alleluia sing to Jesus – Trumpet Alleluia sing to Jesus – Trumpet Alleluia sing to Jesus – Trumpet

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