Simon’s Cycle Shorts are now available to buy in both paperback (£8.39) and Kindle (£2.99) versions from Amazon. HERE

 

“A fine day for a bicycle ride sir.” The friendly tone didn’t appear to make Edward want to talk.

Edward had stopped at one of our favourite spots on the Wyche Road; we were half way round one of our regular rides. The Malvern Hills provided a spectacular back-drop to our rides and were in permanent view from his beloved Birchwood Lodge where he and his wife Alice stayed from time to time. We’d ridden this route many times that summer but Edward, wasn’t in a conversational mood that day. The poor state of preparation that his new choral work was being subjected to by the orchestra chosen for the premiere – it was to be debuted in Birmingham in only a few weeks’ time – had brought him down again. It seems they just weren’t good enough.  Alice had been more than happy to see him take his sombre mood for a ride that late-Victorian summer afternoon; it would be only five months before their Queen, Victoria, was to pass away and the an ominous tremor would encircle the earth; it was if he sensed that the world was be about to change forever. How right he was.

“E, dearest,” she pleaded, as we were about to set off, “everything will be fine – the orchestra might not be the best, but they have another month yet. Go on, enjoy your ride with Mr Pheobus – everything will seem clearer when you return!” Mr Pheobus was the nickname he’d given me, although I had no idea why.

Edward smoothed his large moustache and finally looked, reluctantly, towards the eager, square-faced young man who’d pulled up alongside us with his own bicycle; Edward didn’t speak; E was never very friendly and had been known to ride away from people whose conversations he found tiresome.

“And that is a very fine bicycle sir – is it a Royal Sunbeam?” The young man had subtly detected E’s disquiet at his presence and it just so happened that Edward was especially pleased with me, despite my very high price. He was more than happy to talk to someone who recognised the quality of his conveyance. I was bought on a month before and my £21/10/ price tag still sat heavily with his conscience; E felt I was an ostentatious luxury that his natural conservatism should have resisted; but he couldn’t help himself in responding to this new line from his inquisitor.

“Thank you, young sir. It is a new acquisition and is lovely to ride – I can travel 80 miles in a day and not get tired – I feel very spoiled. I have named him ‘Mr Phoebus’.”

“As in Pheobus Apollo? – a very fitting name for such a handsome machine, sir!” E was slowly warming to our young companion who was similarly attired but in tweed that was decidedly crumpled – and whose bicycle was distinctly inferior.

“And what, young sir, brings you to this perfect place where all that can be heard is the sound of the summer winds in the trees?” E loved the supposed silence of the countryside. He spent at least three hours each morning orchestrating in his study with the window open to let the sights and sounds of nature in. ‘It helps me to concentrate,’ was his sharp response when Alice had questioned the draught from the open window.

“Me? Oh I just like to ride around the countryside – I’m a composer, you know. I’m always looking for old folk tunes for my collection. Are you from these parts sir? Do you know any folk tunes?” By now the young man had a notebook and pen in his hand as if expectantly waiting for E to begin. “If you can sing one then then I can write it straight down!”

I felt E’s chuckle right down to my little oil bath. His mother had been a farm worker near Worcester before she’d married his musician father – E knew hundreds of folk tunes. E was a famous composer and this man didn’t know.

“Yes, a few.” I knew that E felt that he was above the recent obsession for mere folk tunes as a basis for composition – he’d made the conscious decision to write music for the Empire; Victorian grandeur, prosperity, pomp and principles. Folk songs were not for E.

“Well, perhaps one day?…”

“Shhh…” Cut off in mid-sentence by the insistence on silence, he obediently followed E’s sharp little eyes upwards to the sight of a small brown bird fluttering up messily from the open heath-land in front of us, and into the sky. “Listen!”

The two of them stood motionless as the small brown lark burst into its characteristic song. Unusually, as it was mostly heard in the Spring, the melodious song burst high in the sky before floating away with the wind; the young man spoke first.

“Aha, the Lark Ascending – ‘He rises and begins to round, he drops the silver chain of sound, of many links without a break, in chirrup, whistle, slur and shake’.”

“George Meredith – beautiful words.” They stood in silence again, before E continued. “The most memorable Folk songs always come from nature itself – these are the sounds and rhythms that we hear all our lives. There’s music in everything if only men had ears.”

“Yes, and were it not for the fact that I live in London, then I might hear them just a little more often.” There was slight melancholy in his tone which was reciprocated by E.

“Ah, London, yes London. I too, young sir, am a composer and I too live mainly in London. In fact, I am currently writing a piece that is a musical portrait of our great capital city; it is, however, a portrait of the gluttony and drunkenness that the city revels in; the excesses of money and poverty laced with the poison of wine and the spirit of greed.”

“So, a sort of cockaigne, sir?”

“Yes, exactly.” E’s voice trailed away and more silence ensued as the two of them, whilst gazing across from their vantage point at the green fields and hedgerows of the lush Severn Valley, digested the image of the spiritually empty, decaying city; a city that had entered the new century still reveling in the hedonistic certainty of an Empire that had ruled the world.

“A composer sir? Who, may I ask, are you?” E’s shoulders visibly slumped and he looked to the young man with a genuine disappointment – hadn’t the success of his Enigma Variations been broadcast to this young aspiring composer – where had he been for the past three years?

“My name is Edward Elgar.” The young man’s face suddenly beamed and he thrust his hand forward.

“Well, sir, who would have thought. It is such a great honour to have met you.”

“And what is your name?”

“Ralph, sir. Ralph Vaughan Williams. But you’ll not have heard of me. I’m just an organist and choirmaster in a small church in Lambeth. It’s a thankless job but it does keep myself and my wife quite modestly.”

“Well, it’s been very nice to meet you – I must go now.” Straightening his waistcoat and finely tuning the set of his bowler, E put his left foot on the pedal and scooted us along before carefully mounting the saddle and riding away. I watched the young man stare after us. His hand was raised as if to begin a wave; a wave which E wouldn’t have returned even if he’d seen it. E was filled with excitement; the sound of that joyful lark rising so optimistically from the land had awakened something in him – he’d heard a new tune that would come but once in a lifetime; a tune so strong and so full hope and glory that he, and it, would be remembered forever.

 

Simon’s Cycle Shorts are now available to buy in both paperback (£8.39) and Kindle (£2.99) versions from Amazon. HERE

Copyright © 2016 by Simon Bever. All Rights Reserved