And Schubert. What shall I say of Schubert? That he taught me to turn a deaf ear to tittle-tattle? That he told really funny jokes? That he must have done something wrong? Only that last one, I’m afraid, only that last one was true. But his jokes weren’t too bad either: ” When he was at the airport it occurred to Peter that Gertrude, his usually reliable neighbour, hadn’t come round for the dog. He tried calling her on her mobile every day but got no reply. And when he got back, a fortnight later, what did he see waiting for him on the doorstep? “And of course you say, ‘the dog’, and he says, “ The 14 bottles of milk he hadforgotten to cancel.” That was one of his jokes. Not really funny? Perhaps it’s the way I write them. They were certainly funny the way he told them. Wry. Dry. He was fond of one-liners, he was good at them – Did you hear about the dyslexic guy who walked intoa bra? He could rattle off a dozen or so in the time it tookyou to down your pint.
So I asked the man if I could join his aerobics team and he said it depends how flexible you are and I told him I couldn’t make Tuesdays. We all had composers’ names: I was Mozart; my London contact was Bizet even though she was a woman. Blond. Big-boned. Wagner would have suited her better. Where did I meet Schubert for the last time? Oddly enough at midday under that outlandishly huge astronomical clock in the main square with all the tourists waiting for the clockwork Jesus. Noon or midnight were the real treats when Jesus popped out followed by all his faithful, brown-robed disciples. People applauded as if they were real characters. As usual Schubert was late, not that that worried him in the slightest. He never apologised however late he was, never explained what had kept him, just breezed in with some joke that made you smile. When I left home, my mum said: “Don’t forget to write.” I remember thinking: “That’s unlikely – it’s a basic skill, isn’t it?” We were taken by Schubert to the sleepy little town of Strakovica where we picked up Sibelius (and where Stevenson got the idea for Markheim, his short story about a murdered watch maker). We had a beer at Ticktalk’s, the pavement cafe which had formerly been the shop of the unfortunate watchmaker (whose murderer was never found). The sun was shining but it was cold enough for Schubert to put on his big black overcoat. After that we went on to the very stylish glass and chrome building in the town centre where I was to give my lecture, a strangely transparent place for such secret shenanigans. At the ornate glass door, Schubert put an arm round my shoulders and said, ” If I don’t see you through the week, I’llsee you through the window,” his last and by no means his best joke. I never saw him again.