09 July 1999


It seems I should have been born to Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto. opus 18; to the second movement to be precise. This is not so strange: parents, after all, often do strange things at the birth of their children, actions which display some occult significance comprehensible to themselves alone. In this day and age of the high-precision stopwatch, it is but a small matter to chart the progress of a child into this world - head out, all out, cord cut - with only a negligible margin of error. The uses to which this invaluable kind of information can be put are, of course, as multitude as the stars in the heavens. There is that unfathomable form of telepathy whereupon the father is able to empathise with the mother’s pains of birth. Or there is Pavlov's Baby, delighting in hearing that same, soothing music once again, only this time a little more clearly. Whether I was intended to join this latter group is unknown, though unlikely. Indeed, it is safe to assume that my mother thought that a piece of music which she found relaxing and beautiful would calm her sensibilities at the moment when her first son entered the world. (I once heard a story about someone's grandmother, who had a limited grasp of biological science: whilst on the way to the hospital to give birth to her first child - I don't know whether it was her last - she raised the question of how the baby would make its exit; the husband, a little perplexed no doubt, replied that the baby usually came out the same way as it went in, at which point the lady in question declared in no uncertain terms that in that case the baby could stay right where it was, she was having none of this giving birth business.) And my mothers chosen piece of music was the slow movement of Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto. opus 18. Indubitably preferable to whale-song.

My mother still has the cassette. It has a curious cardboard cover which surrounds the whole case, with a fractured photograph of rich autumn trees on the front and a pink reverse, the like of which I have never seen. And indeed the birth took place in October, so to have played the tape would have been all the more appropriate. But it was not to be. I was not to become properly acquainted with Rachmaninoff’s Adagio sostenuto until I was some sixteen years old and revising for exams. Requiring a little instrumental music, without vocals and words to distract my concentration, I discovered it languishing in a box of miscellanies. It subsequently received more frequent airings than during the entirety of my childhood, having previously only seen the light of day on intermittent Sunday afternoons, with my mother's vain attempt to inject some modicum of culture into a sonic environment composed almost entirely of an album of Bread covers, another of Bob Marley covers, and Shirley Bassey. Though it may also have been the case that my stepfather was asleep.

So, it was not to be. My escape, if it may be called that, came completely without intention. It rests on nothing more than the haste of my emigration from one world and immigration into another. I was born too soon: my abruptness surprised my mother, and there was quite simply no time to ready the tape. Perhaps even the avid stop-watcher would have been forced into defeat. And. so, at home, in the grey and dreary Birmingham of a presumably grey and dreary October 1973, I was born without the accompaniment of Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto. opus 18.

It should be further reported that the activities of the father at the time of my birth are far from clear. Whatever it was, it was sure to have been calculated to cause the least possible trouble. Perhaps, on reflection, it was to ready the tape.

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