I wrote an article a few weeks ago about a family holiday in the South West; there is a risk that another column about a holiday will reinforce the impression that MP’s spend the whole of their summer recess by the seaside. I confess to having spent two weeks away from the constituency; but all the time I was linked to North West Hampshire by a virtual umbilical cord. Thanks to modern technology, I could keep the Child Support Agency and Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise, the two major generators of complaints from constituents, on their toes from an internet café in Zagreb, with a glass of Karlovacko at hand.
We have just returned from a week in Croatia, seeking raw material for a talk Aurelia is giving about her father who was born there. After a day in Town Halls, Museums and graveyards, we looked for culture and relaxation in the evenings. One evening, we went to a superb concert given by the Zagreb Philharmonic Orchestra. One of the works that was performed was the Richard Strauss Horn Concerto.
As a former wind-player myself, I know the difficulty of playing this instrument. The principal ingredient of that which is blown into the mouthpiece is compressed air; but an associated ingredient is water. If the quality of output from the horn is not to be degraded and sound like a gargle, water has to be released from the instrument at regular intervals.
There is no way of doing this elegantly. After the opening salvo in this concerto, the composer leaves a gap of enough bars for the soloist to attend to the needs of his instrument. The soloist removed the mouthpiece, turned the instrument upside down, and then committed a minor act of indecency in a public place. We pretended to look the other way, wondering if the Conductor would slip on the puddle on the way out. But there was more to come.
Later on in the first movement, the soloist then removed a section of the horn’s colon to attend to some intestinal distress, performed some First Aid with his little finger; and re-assembled the instrument in time for the next blast.
What happened next, we will never know. For when the time came for the horn’s next comfort break, the soloist turned his back on the audience. What took place was a secret between him and the first viola player, whose gaze was averted by being focussed on the score.
My esteemed colleague, Boris Johnson, caused a diplomatic incident a few weeks ago with some disobliging comments about the diet of the inhabitants of Papua and New Guinea. Perhaps he was hoping that, as with Liverpool, he would have to go there instead of returning to Westminster next week. So, for the avoidance of doubt, the Croatians are a marvellous, hospitable and cultured race and we look forward to a return visit.