21. August 1969
The Customs Officer at Heathrow Airport
Right from the day I had made the decision to leace the stricken country, I was trying to learn English. I had to practically start from scratch ─ when I was in England the last time, my vocabulary was not great, consisting mainly of words like ga-ga, ma-ma, and da-da (even then I must have been a Dadaist). I went through short periods of activities previously, when my resolution to learn would hold for a few days. But with the firm goal in sight when I would really need to speak at least some English, I suddenly had more incentive. I had set myself a target of daily learning twenty new words. It looked reachable, and since I had about one hundred days left until departure, this would give me the vocabulary consisting of about two thousand words. That seemed enough for a start and it appeared to be achievable. And, indeed, by the time I had landed at Heathrow Airport on 20th August 1969, I had known those 2000 words, maybe even a few more. The problem was that I saw them as if printed in front of my inner eye, I could pronounce them of sorts, but I was not used to hearing them pronounced by other people.
Thus when the customs officer at the airport spoke to me, I had no idea what he was saying. And he was only asking me if I had some goods to declare! In the end we had managed to communicate, mainly through sign language. I had never found out this man’s name, I can’t even remember what he looked like. But in my book he has a place as one of the remarkable people. Through him I found out what my true situation was like. My sky high confidence was gone, of course. The Custom Officer at the Heathrow Airport, name unknown, had provided the reality check, and for this I’m eternally grateful to him!
At the airport I was met by a distant relative Vladimír Simice, whom I had met a year earlier in Karlovy Vary. He migrated to England in 1948, with his English wife Joan. She fell in love with one of the soldiers in Father’s unit when they were stationed near Warwick in Midlands. He was a Slovak by nationality, and Slovak also by name. He was previously married, however, when he received the supposedly genuine information that his wife, who was Jewish, died in a concentration camp. He got over it eventually, and when young Joan came into his life, he was ready to start a new relationship. They planned to marry, but when the war had ended, Slovak found out that his wife had miraculously survived the concentration camp! He did the right thing and returned to her. The jilted young woman nevertheless declared that she was going to marry someone from that country anyway, and moved to Prague, together with her sister, where they both worked as teachers of English, while fishing for husbands. Both were successful, but then came the year 1948 and the communist putsch, which made them all come to England. By the time of my arrival, the other sister Marjorie had migrated to Australia with her husband, my second uncle (I later visited them in Sydney), while Joan with Vladimír still lived in Warwick.
Vladimír was not quite sure of what was his status as far as his former home country was concerned ─ was he considered by the communist authorities to be a legal emigrant or a fugitive? He decided to play it safe and never went there until 1968, when it appeared that the ice had melted. About the middle of August therefore he loaded into the car his family, now including a pair of teenagers, and took them for a trip none of them were ever likely to forget. They appeared suddenly in Karlovy Vary, stayed overnight with us, and continued to Prague. There, on the morning of 21. August they were woken up by the thundering noises of steel belts of tanks rolling over the street pavement. In their horror, they took refuge at the British Embassy, where the staff soon organised a convoy of similarly afflicted countrymen driving to the safety in West Germany. Vladimír now drove me to Warwick, where I was to stay for a few days while getting acclimatised to new life, before moving to London.
In London I had another contact. He was the soldier who wasn’t a widower, as he once thought he was. Slovak was originally a professor of maths and chemistry, in 1948 with his wife he also moved to England. He had arranged accommodation and even some work for me, though only part time, four hours a day. It was in Soho, where I had been making cappuccino in a café owned by one countryman. I was required for the noon rush hours 10-2, therefore the famed night life in this notoriously known London quarter had passed me by. I was making about ten pounds a week plus a meal, and within the first hour on the job I became an expert in making this Italian beverage. The setback was that in the café I had little chance to learn English, as the Czech language prevailed. Next to me at the cash register worked the former Czechoslovak Ambassador to Britain and later to India, Bohuslav Kratochvíl. We talked whenever we could, naturally, in Czech. I could have gone to one of the language schools, like some of my young countrymen did, but that held no great appeal to me: Instead, I had resolved to try out my father’s legendary method of learning languages, and wasn’t he an example to follow, having mastered about a dozen of them?
The method called for immersion into the native world that was total, without exceptions. During day one had to be anywhere people congregated, markets, shops, railway stations, etc. Listening how people talked, getting the feel of it. In the evening one had to read newspapers, books, listen to radio. After about a month he would emerge from such hermit-like life, with another language in his portfolio. I said to myself that I should try something like this. If I went to work on a building site as a labourer, for instance, I would have people around me and, additionally, I would be making more money. I answered one newspaper add, and was told to come to the company headquarters at Wembley, near the famous Olympic stadium. They weren’t sure if I had the work permit, and couldn’t understand that I didn’t need one being a native Englishman. I didn’t sound like one at all! But I had my birth certificate issued by Somerset House where all evidence of British born citizens is being kept, and that was hard to question. The next day I went to work to a place in Lambert, where an old factory was to be converted into an office space. Walls were being knocked down, foundations laid for stairways, etc. I earned about 25 pounds a week, which wasn’t bad, but the work was hard, mostly with pick and shovel. The first week or so, in my bedsitter in Streatham, which I was renting from some Indians, I used to get crumps during the nights. The body was slow getting used to such strain. Fortunately, there was a relief on the horizon.
The English love their tea ─ everybody knows that! This includes all strata of society, the rich, the poor, and the in-between. I haven‘t been to England for quite some time, and I believe that a lot has changed, but not the love of tea, I’m sure of that. Maybe that the typical British institution called „the tea lady“ is on the way out now; come to think of it, it has to be, being sexist just to start with, but in around 1970 it was much alive and flourishing. Nevertheless, a building project of which I was a part, could not afford to employ a tea lady for the initial 6-8 workers, even though our numbers were on the way up, and later doubled, even trebled. But it was unimaginable not to have a tea lady, of sorts at least. When in the first week of our employment this glaring deficiency was being discussed (that much my slowly improving English had allowed me to gather), the eyes of those present had focused on my person. When the proposal came about and my possible future duties were being explained to me, I had agreed quite enthusiastically. In an essence, it meant to me a relief from the rather heavy work I was not yet used to. Sometime before the morning, lunch and afternoon break, I was to go round to see all those present, and asked them what they wanted me to bring them, make notes of it. Then I had to go to the nearest snack bar, and buy the required snacks, sandwiches, sausage rolls, milk, etc. Come back with the goods, and in the room dedicated to this, make the tea. A boiler, large tin pot, and a set of mugs were made available to me by the company, all I had to do was boil the water, put the necessary amount of tea into the pot ─ one teaspoon per person, plus one for the pot, as I was told to do it properly ─ pour about an inch of milk into each cup, and have the smoking, fragrant cups of tea ready on the hour.
It was up to me to collect money for the overhead costs. The tea was a standard half a crown per week ─ this was before the decimal currency came into being, a year or so later. The food I was buying for people was an extra. Having to go around workers and discussing their requirements was also a welcome to my language learning mission, which otherwise did not quite go according to plans. In theory I should have been more or less automatically absorbing the new language that I heard everywhere around me. Except that what I heard was such a mixture of different accents that I couldn’t understand any of these people. One Scotsman and one black guy from the West Indies were a bit easier to understand, mainly because they were a little more intelligent and knew that they had to speak slowly in front of me. The others came from all corners of the world, from Ireland, Africa, India, simply from everywhere. I wondered how they would understand each other, but they did, as the topics they discussed appeared to be mainly football, or racing, horses or dogs. It was hard for me finding a topic that I could discuss with them. I don’t mind watching football, which I used to play myself, but racing, even though it might be sport of the kings, has always left me cold.
To relax a bit, on Saturdays I used to go to West Hampstead, where the club was on West End Lane, and still is, now renamed to the Club of Czechs and Slobacs. There I could talk to people in my mother's tongue, without having to constantly search for words in my head. After some time I had even left the Indians in Streatham and moved to West Hampstead, not too far away from the club. Once I came into the club, it was quite full, but there was a chair at the small table for two occupied by one young man. He looked familiar to me. As he was about my age, I began a conversation.
“Where are you coming from?”
“From Karlovy Vary,” he said.
“Me too. Which street?”
“Really? Me too!”
It turned out that my new acquaintance lived in the same street, opposite the house I lived in. Naturally, we must have occasionally passed each other in the street, hence the familiarity. But that wasn’t an end of similarities. We have found out that both of us had the same birth place here in London, during the war, only a few weeks apart. There was only one major difference. In our young age (we were both 27), he was not only married, but already had four (!) children.
On weekends there was usually something going on, the least of all being a dance night. But there were also some cultural actions, and as soon as it became known that I could sing, I was usually asked to perform some classic from the Czech music, singing Kecal from The Bartered Bride or the Water Sprite from the Rusalka. Often I was then introduced to some personality present; thus I had met Jaroslav Stránský, the grandson of the founder of Lidové noviny, the paper I write articles for even these days. Or Jaroslav Drobný, the 1954 Wimbledon singles champion.
Winter came about, and the work at the building site was getting harder because of the weather. Fortunately, I was able to find myself a job as storeman with a small firm a couple of Jewish Czechs was running in Holland Park. I was sheltered from the cold wet winds London abounds with at this time of the year. The man that I had the most dealings with was named Khan, and from time to time we would go with a hired truck and a driver to various places to collect sheets of cheap Perspex that the firm was selling, mostly to India. With time on hand, we talked. As a recent refugee from the Communist country I naturally had a suspicion towards anything that raked of socialism. Khan, who was nearly sixty and had left Prague in 1948, was trying to explain to me that in England even amongst the members of Labour Party one could find plenty of decent people. My recent experience with the professed socialists who came in tanks and armed to the teeth made that hard to believe for me. Khan had also said:
“Remember that when politicians here have problems, there usually is one of two things behind it; sex or money. With the conservatives most often it is the sex, with the socialists, the money…”
Well, this may have been true forty years ago, but times have changed. Nowadays most scandals over money blow over, and what for politicians used to be deadly affairs over extramarital affairs, even homosexual ones, only seem to add kudos to the perpetrators!
Frank Fisher, as he was known to most people, was an organ and piano player, and musical teacher. Most of his clientele came from the circles of Czech refugees, many of whom had been well established by the time the second migration wave hit the shores of olde Albion. Frank was almost ten years older than I, divorced, nevertheless an ardent Catholic. Soon after we got to know each other, he suggested that we could share a flat together. A couple of old ladies who also looked after one frail old man, had decided to move to some government provided facility, and the flat they used to occupy became available.
The flat was on the second floor (the top four windows on the picture) of a house that stood first in the line of identical terraced houses, as is typical of many streets in the less affluent London suburbs, of which Paddington is a fine example. There were three rooms and a landing, which we had converted into a kitchenette, thus giving us a room each on our own plus a living room. Most of the furniture we had inherited; it was old and dingy, but it had to do for us. Behind the house was a small workshop; I had never found out what exactly was being manufactured there, but there were some fine machining devices on which a few people worked.
The house and the workshop were both owned by a Czech gentleman, who was a cousin of the famous conductor Raphael Kubelik. I would only see him occasionally when we had paid the rent (which was 12 pounds, I think), but unfortunately never had the chance to meet his far-famed cousin, who later was to become a subject to one of the programmes I made for the Czech Radio. Paddington may not have been the best of addresses one could have in London, but it is well positioned, not too far from anything and anywhere, if one takes into account the distances, which in London are particularly great. But one could walk from there to Portobello Road, well known for its markets, or to Marble Arch on the corner of Hide Park, and to other places. I was remarkably fit in those days, because I walked everywhere I possibly could. I thus saved the relatively expansive fare on the London tube, and I was as fit as I would be at any time in my life.
I had still intended to do something with my singing, though I realised that it wasn’t going to be easy. Frank was willing to rehearse with me, and he was a brilliant accompanist, but I needed a proper singing coach. And who better, I told myself, than Otakar Kraus! Not only I could speak with him in Czech ─ he was born in Prague ─ but he had a reputation of being an excellent teacher of bass and baritone singers. At the time he was still a member of the Royal Opera House Covent Gardens, where he had an impressive career as a baritone, lasting more than 20 years, while specialising mainly in the roles of villains, such as Iago in Othello, or Scarpia in Tosca. I had auditioned with him, and he accepted me, however, he just went through a very difficult period in his life ─ his wife was gravely ill, and he himself had health problems, which eventually forced him to abandon his own singing career. Until he would be ready to resume teaching, he advised me to go to Morley College. That was an evening school, state subsidised and therefore very affordable for me. And it was in Lambert, a short distance from the place of my first job on the building site.
The school had a great reputation, as I was only discovering slowly and gradually. It was founded in the 1880s and it offers courses in many fields, such as music, drama, dance, art and design, fashion, languages, health and general humanities. Its first musical director was Gustav Holst, who was appointed in 1907 and stayed there for 17 years, the most productive time of his career when for instance he composed The Planets, the seven movement suite that had made him famous. The musicians who followed Holst in the position of director were also some big names. James Gardner, Michael Tippett, or Ralph Waughan Williams; these names read like who is who in the modern British musical composition. Opera was very prominent at the college, and there were usually four school performances in a year.
When I first dropped in, I was very loudly and cheerfully welcomed. They were about to commence rehearsals of the Rossini’s opera La Cenerentola (The Cinderella), all roles were already cast, but they needed a bass urgently for the role of Alidoro. As far as they were concerned, I was a gift from heaven! I only had to sing a few bars for the director, to walk away with the part in my pocket on the same evening.
At the club I had met a Czech girl Dagmar; the name is a fairly common one in Bohemia and is usually abbreviated to Dáša (or Dasha). The venue of the first date we had was the Morley College on the first night of Cinderella. It led to other things, as we will see…
After Alidoro, my next role at the Morley College was hardly believable. The Bartered Bride by Smetana is a kind of Czech national treasure, and the comic role of marriage broker Kecal is iconic. The name translates into English as “chatterbox, windback, liar“, or perhaps to put it into the modern language, even „bullshitter“. After we started rehearsing, the other singers had talked me into singing the part in original Czech, to give them some inspiration. My performance proved so inspirational, that there was even a serious talk about going to do the whole thing in Czech, under my coaching. However, the initial enthusiasm dropped down quickly, after we tried some other parts. To get a properly pronounced Czech word from Jeník or Mařenka was simply impossible, and even when they were singing it sounded awful. Not their singing, mind you, the guy who sang Jeník, for instance, was an excellent tenor, for whom the high “C”, the absolute top of the tenors’ range and often their failing, was a breeze. I wonder what sort of a career he had; there must have been one awaiting him, for sure. But they would have needed a lot of coaching to be able to sing in Czech, and there was no time for that. It can be done though, and is being done quite often these days. Years later I had discovered on YouTube a recording of the same opera made by the Sadler‘s Wells opera in London. Not a single one of the soloists had a Czech sounding name; however, their Czech was almost flawless. The singers had even managed quite satisfactorily the notoriously difficult sound of the soft “r”, written as “ř“, which gives radio or TV moderators such hard times in the name of Antonín Dvořák, for instance.
The Bartered Bride was thus produced in the English translation. The official director was Marcus Dods, the main conductor of the BBC orchestra. With all his duties, we saw him only rarely, and the rehearsals were normally being led by his assistant. But when he did come, he gave us a hard time! I remember the first such rehearsal, which had turned out to be a kind of master class for me, as Dods pedantically insisted on my getting the entrances accurate to a hair. Before we started I thought that I knew my part pretty well; two hours later I wasn’t so sure any more. With the galaxy of excellent singers that I had seen and listened to even at this level, it was becoming obvious to me that getting somewhere in this profession in this country was going to be hard. As my mother used to say:
Many have been called upon, but only a few have been chosen!
I had put my name down for the auditions at the Guildhall School of Music, one of the best schools of operatic singing of all. I didn’t give myself much chance, though. I knew that I needed at least a couple of years of very intensive training. That cost money, which I didn’t have. A few days before the auditions were due, I was performing at a concert organised by the Czech community in London. It was a large hall, and to my surprise it was quite full. Even though the Soviet invasion of our country was already about three years in the past, there was still a lot of public sympathy. I was singing two of Dvořák’s Biblical Songs, Lord Is My Shepard and By the Rivers of Babylon. From the first thing in the morning I wasn’t feeling too well. Not ill, just not in the right singing form. That’s something one gets as a singer, sometimes, too many times, really; it’s simply one of those frustrating things an ordinary mortal has no notion of. When it happens, one has to go on performing, and hope that the audience wouldn’t notice that you aren’t at your best. And maybe, just maybe, hope that you could, somehow, sing yourself into a form. This sometimes happens.
I had struggled through the Dvořák songs, and I knew that it wasn’t very good at all, but I had still ended up with a nice applause. But on a night like this, they would clap anybody and anything, even if I whistled those songs, I told myself. When I got behind the stage, I was told that there was an elderly gentleman waiting for me. Because I didn’t expect him, I didn’t immediately recognise him; only when he introduced himself down dropped my jaw. It turned out to be Vilém Tauský (1910-2004), up to that time probably the most successful Czech musical conductor in Britain. He came there much like my parents did, with the troops of volunteers via south of France, and styed after the war. For about ten years Tauský was the main conductor of the BBC orchestra, before Marcus Dods, who had savaged me so violently at the Morley. Tauský only that same year became the director of the Guildhall School of Music, the very school I had applied to be accepted by. That was unknown to me. But as it happened, he already knew about my application (he must have done some researches). And he must have heard me singing on one of my bad nights, damn it! He told me straight away that it was obvious to him that on the night I wasn’t anywhere near my best form, but he played it down, also saying that this sort of thing happens to every singer and the trick is not to worry too much about it. It only takes the experts to notice something’s not quite right, and this usually gets better as one sings along, anyway. But of course, with only two relatively short songs I stood no chance of singing myself into form.
Tauský was honest with me, while we talked for quite a while. He said that he wasn’t going to be at the auditions, as the first round is usually adjudicated by others, but he also said it was obvious to him that I wasn’t going to get through, not this year anyway. But that I still should go to the auditions, because it would give me some experience. He stressed this: what I need foremost was experience. And a good teacher. Tauský came to tell me not to give up, that the voice is there. Well, I had been told similar things before by a few people in the know, and I was beginning to believe it, but this came from someone who really was a world class! Vilém Tauský had studied directly directly under Leoš Janáček, and the legend has it that he was so good that at the age of nineteen in Brno he had stepped in to conduct Puccini’s Turandot on a few minutes notice, when Zdeněk Chalabala suddenly fell ill.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have the chance to get to know this sweet old man better. All I know is that he died in 2004, aged ninety four.
Money, money, money; I had no chance of getting anywhere without money, and quite a lot of it. I would have needed a sponsor, but where to find one? A quality teacher in those days had cost the minimum of three guineas for an hour’s lesson, and I could afford barely one such lesson a week. That was not enough. I had not heard anything from Otakar Kraus, other than that his wife was fighting for her life, and I didn’t want to intrude. As it happened, Kraus did do some more teaching eventually, but only starting a couple of years later, by which time I was gone. For a while I went for lessons to an Italian voice teacher, signor Mele, who had a very good reputation amongst the Morley College students, and who was therefore recommended to me. However, it turned out that his style of coaching, which was supposed to lead to the typical Italian “bel canto”, did not suit me much. Thus, after a few months, I had stopped coming to his Holland Park residence.
Kim Once Again
Despite all the setbacks, I had decided to make at least one more serious attempt at a singing career, and got myself an agent. He had booked me for an audition with a rather bigger agent in Germany. The idea was getting into one of the smaller opera houses in Germany, which are numerous there and start from the scratch, just as my Czech teacher had planned for me.
There were four of us going to Frankfurt, two sopranos, one tenor and myself. The tenor owned the car he was driving, and we all pooled for the petrol money. We went on a ferry to Belgium, and then continued to Germany. In Frankfurt we slept in a hotel; I shared room with the tenor. In the morning we all went to the Opera House, where the auditions were to be held. Again, I had one of those days when I wasn’t feeling to be anywhere near my best form, so I gave myself little chance of succeeding. Quite a few singers from all parts of the world had assembled in the wing where the rehearsal rooms were situated. Before my turn came I was conversing in the corridor with a Russian baritone, finding out that I had forgotten most of the Russian I had known. Fortunately, the Russian spoke English, though with an American accent. I never found out how he did with the important agent, whose name nevertheless I don’t remember. The agent, surrounded by some assessors, had listened to my singing Fiesco’s aria “A te l'estremo addio” from Verdi’s Simone Boccanegra and Osmin’s “O, wie will ich triumphieren” from the Abduction from the Seraglio by Mozart, and asked me if in addition I could sing the Leporello’s catalogue aria from Don Giovanni. This cheered me up, as I knew the aria well, and also had the feeling that the voice was coming back to me. But that was only a fantasizing on my side; it wasn’t going to be my day. When, getting to the end of about six minutes long aria, I arrived at the passage where the high “D” is to be held long, I was horrified to hear myself pushing the note hard, knowing immediately that most likely this was to be the end of me. And indeed, the important man turned to a couple of his advisers; they talked a bit, shaking their heads. Finally I was dismissed with the fateful: We will let you know. As far as I know, only the tenor who drove us to Frankfurt had succeeded with his aria of Tamino from the Magic Flute, and was being sent to some other audition…
While in Germany, I couldn’t let the opportunity pass me by, to see my former colleague Kim Novák, who was living in Hamburg with his Marika, the daughter of the Head Surgeon Fiedler whose car we used to borrow to get us to the venues. They were married now and had a child a bit over a year old, as well as a fresh baby of only a few weeks. Kim was now an assistant director with a team that recorded songs for the German TV. I decided to go to see them, taking an overnight train from Frankfurt to Hamburg. We chatted about our mutual experiences as fresh migrants, and thus I found out that soon after moving to Germany, they went through the phase of living in a commune. Kim had always inclined towards that sort of thing, I doubted that Marika did, but she was in tow so she consented. But eventually she succeeded in talking Kim into leaving the commune and getting a flat of their own, part of which they would sub-let. As I found out later, their marriage did not last, which I had not found surprising. Kim was quite obviously immersed in the drug culture, where he immediately tried to introduce me as well. Seeing what he had to do to earn money to feed his growing family and no doubt to support his growing habit as well, I could quite understand how he got there.
The TV team he was with was to film a video of a new song. Part of it was a scene, which was supposed to be a dream one (nowadays we would probably call it psychedelic), filmed under water, with some people smoking cigarettes, or was it meant to be marijuana? With Kim around, it probably was ─ maybe they even had it in that milk they were using for simulating blowing the smoke from their mouths into the water, how else would they have got into the water? It was November, the scene was shot in an aquarium in the park; the water in it must have been near the freezing point. And who would you think would have to get in fully clothed, as an extra? The assistant director, naturally. Well, maybe it was his choice. Knowing Kim, I guessed that the whole idea was born in his head. Still, it was hard, being a fresh migrant!
But life of a new migrant had its bright sides, too. Kim, who was originally a cook, was preparing breakfast for the two of us. On a big pan he had put a generous amount of bacon, and had begun to break the eggs. When he was cracking the shell of perhaps an eight egg, he looked at me and said:
“You know, there is one thing that I had gotten rid of while living here.”
“What is it?”
“Well, back where we came from, I always used to have this vague sense of misdemeanor when making breakfast for myself and breaking the third egg!”
The Decisions to be Made
London may have been a novelty for me, but eventually it had begun to slowly wear off. There were things that had a lasting value, though, like the state owned museums and galleries. These were free to enter, which was useful when you didn’t want to sit home on weekends, but even more so on the cold days in the English winter. The winter in London was much more unpleasant than in Prague, where with the continental climate the air is dryer. To warm up a bedsitter was hard and costly. I went through several in Earls Court, Streatham, West Hampstead, Paddington, Willesden Green, and they all had one common denominator. It was the electric meter, sometimes also gas meter. Together these two had formed the worst enemy of the creature called tenant! These metallic monsters usually form (and I doubt that much would have changed in the near half a century) an unholy alliance with the arch-enemy, called the landlord. The latter holds all the trumps in his hand. In the house he (or she, as it might be…) has the meter supplied by the energy providing company, to which he pays the bills. How he would set the secondary measuring device in the tenants’ rooms is entirely up to him. He could charge you twice the amount the power had cost him, three times, who knows? Certainly more, probably much more. Those hideous critters swallowed shillings (nowadays one or two pound coins, no doubt) by the dozen, and generally behaved like professional housebreakers. If you wanted to allow your body that was battered by the heavy work rest at home over the weekend, it could have cost you a substantial part of your earnings. A small wonder that the London museums with their warm atmosphere were, particularly during the winter months, and on weekends, always full of people keen on educating themselves!
I’m getting married…
20th March 1971 was my wedding day. With Dáša we had decided to tie the knot. That was not the hardest decision I ever had to make. We had resolved to have a small wedding, just the ceremony at the City of Brent town hall, followed by a reception in our bedsitter at Walm Lane. Altogether there were twelve of us at the table, avoiding the number thirteen. Two of our friends, who had a much larger wedding in a church, where I sang an aria of Zachariah from Verdi’s Nabucco, were also present. So was the Warwick contingent, as well as Mr Slovak. If any of these people were nervous about meeting after so many years that had passed from the romantic encounter I describe elsewhere, they didn’t show it. It may not have been a lavish wedding, but we are still together, moving nearer to the golden anniversary!