Friday, 11 January 2019

Released, with gratitude

...for all the fine nursing and good company I've enjoyed - yes, enjoyed - during my 14 days in Chelsea and Westminster Hospital (this by way of a corrective to the horrors of the last two posts, accompanied by photos of the five-star-hotel view from my bed. The one above features the most original pick-me-up, Jonny Brown's two-piece vase of tulips from Duranus). Finally, after 48 hours' prevarication when my temperature stabilised, they performed the 'second intervention' on me to remove bag and tube into my left kidney and replaced it with a stent, which is more uncomfortable on the nether regions but gets me out of jail. Which I left at just after 6 yesterday evening, saying a rather reluctant farewell to the two other musketeers in Bay 6 of the ward. We three were wryly dedicated to reprimanding the moaners and complainers, telling them the nurses were doing their best and that there were other folk on the ward much worse off than them whom they needed to consider.

So, a hymn to those guys and to two others. My long-term neighbour, whom I'm sure I can name, Mr Patel, went through a lot of suffering and still needs his gall bladder removing, but he was a smiling and warm personage throughout it all. Among his several professions he runs an organic olive oil farm in Puglia. He'd asked his business partner to send a bottle; he delivered 16, so they went to the staff and to us three musketeers when he left about a week ago. I shall be heading up to the wondrous Neasden Hindu Temple for some vegetarian food in the next month.

I mentioned noble John, 94, pillar of the Iranian Christian community in London. He knew the people we'd heard about during our most extraordinary Christmas Day with the gated Anglican community in Isfahan, having managed a hotel there before being forced to flee during the revolution (that same which brought tragedy to the then-Bishop, his son stoned to death by an angry mob). I was very much moved by John's journey, after the latest of his many falls which fractured his skull, from seeming at death's door to being up and shaving himself, to retreat and then, it seemed, to full lively recovery, and I enjoyed conversations with two of his daughters.

Memorable indeed was the afternoon when the Bishop of Iraq, who had been due to stay with John, came in with a group of friends, in the middle of which a celebrated Chelsea doyenne, artist and writer, another patient, wandered in sporting her afternoon glitter and feathers. Less happy was the night when John fell out of bed. Twice. Why hadn't they put the side guards up? I got a complicated explanation about how the patient can harm him- or herself more getting tangled in them. Anyway, fiercely independent John will need 24 hour care when he leaves, which he may already have done; he was moved to another ward five days ago.

What a contrast to the two horrid old men who occupied the bed opposite him in succession. I've written about the Screamcougher, but maybe there was something psychologically amiss. Next was a fully compos mentis old moaner and attention-seeker who wanted to get back to his cat. Treated half the staff, who were infinitely patient with him and polite, very vehemently ('leave me alone!' 'What do you think you're doing?' 'Where's the fucking doctor'?). Just occasionally made us laugh ('I want to shit, dear'). Asked us all to help him. I gave him a banana - he always wanted more at breakfast, lunch and dinner - but there was a moment of pure black comedy when he asked Musketeer Two to help him get up. 'I've got terminal cancer, man, you're asking the wrong person'. I gave him a speech, addressing him as 'sir' and telling him this was not a five-star hotel and that the staff were doing their best under difficult circumstances. He stared at me open-mouthed but did shut up for the rest of the afternoon.

Musketeer Two (if I am One, in absolutely no order of priority), old hippy, has done a lot of drugs in his life, involved in the music business and just back from Jamaica. Very gentle and kindly, huge array of visitors, coming to terms with a diagnosis of cancer spread from kidney to liver and lungs. I joked that he was 'making a molehill out of a mountain'. Musketeer Three arrived the day after me. Crabby and laconic, but always surprising. In a lot of pain after treatment for a burst appendix. With a wife who had her own lung problems so couldn't visit often. Heard him waiting for her on the phone: 'where are you, you silly old cow?' But to my surprise we were all singing from the same hymn sheet on Brexit and Trump. I left before I could get to see Mary Poppins Returns in the MediCinema (another of C&W's fabulous setups); he went instead with his granddaughter. Next Thursday is The Favourite, which being on the lists I can go and see with a friend for free. Unfortunately J does not want to set foot inside the hospital again. Anyway, Musketeer Three and I chuckled quietly on a regular basis, bitching about the troublemakers.

I thank so many of the nursing staff. Some were indifferent - what a difference introductions would have made, given that the team of two serving the ward changed daily and nightly. Only three were fairly-to-downright useless. I've already mentioned the exchange with the mystery woman at the desk and the male nurse who failed to screw up the bottom of my bag after emptying so it went all over the floor, also referenced under 'Screamcougher and squalor'. Like many of the staff, he was always on Instagram and Facebook, looking at cars and sports. Jeremy found him fast asleep at the desk in the middle of the afternoon.

One night nurse who was busy on Facebook at her desk said, when I pointed to my three-quarters-full bag on my way out from the toilet, 'I'll come when I've finished this'. 40 minutes later she appeared in the ward and said, 'I haven't forgotten', before walking out again. When it reached full to bursting I went to the toilet and emptied it myself. She looked disapproving when I told her I had to do it (as I had been, before they decided they wanted to measure and/or analyse the contents). 'An hour has passed', I said, knowing it was between 50 minutes and an hour or more. 'Not an hour,' she said, walking away again. One other nurse was rude (when  I asked politely about making up the bed, usually done around 10am but this time unmade way past noon, 'let us do our job') but clearly good at his work, and we got on better after that. I could have done without the ineptitude of a too-tight dressing which was apparently the real reason for blistering on my right forearm and cellulitis above it. That retreated swiftish, but the extra hospital contributions to my suffering were unnecessary and unwelcome.

I repeat - that stuff was very much in the minority. I thank the majority, dealing well in situations of serious understaffing, from the bottom of my heart. One thing I shall be on the warpath about: the hygiene.

Cleaning the few toilets and showers shared by the ward only three times a day - twice, in this instance, it seems (photographed at 21.30 that night; on the next morning, the third entry was filled in, possibly fraudulently) - with the last cleaning usually at 2.30pm. Contracting out to an inadequate company is false, short-term economy; stamp out the chance of MRSA etc and in the long term the NHS saves money.

While nights proved a trial - I can't get over the silence back home - days were never boring. My reading tailed off a bit after finishing the Ferrante quartet; an earlier novel, The Days of Abandonment, is of the highest literary quality, a Kafkaesque narrative of how a woman loses her sense of self and falls into absurd, irrational behaviour after her husband abruptly leaves her for a younger model, but not a pageturner. My most recent visitor apart from J, the wonderful Frances Stonor Saunders, brought me Virginia Woolf's On Being Ill, an astonishingly rich essay for its 24 pages.

Frances also offered invaluable advice based on experience: when you leave, ask for a full printout of your treatment rather than just the usual signing-off summary. Papers go missing; when you return for any connected appointments, bring it all with you just in case.

I finished one fine TV series and got through a shorter, more recent one. Earlier this year, I was drawn in immediately to Eve Myles' utterly mesmerising, infinitely various characterisation, the core of the Welsh thriller Keeping Faith.

How bereft I'd felt when it went off the BBC iPlayer in September as soon as I'd got to the end of episode 4 (of 8). Fortunately I found the rest this time by entering 'Keeping Faith watch online' into Google, happy to put up wih the odd interjection of an advert in each instalment. The slow burn, always plausible drama maintained its high standards to the end, with all the other roles superbly taken (plenty of stillness, a rare quality in TV acting. Pictured below, Myles with Hanna Daniel as Faith's sassy fellow lawyer Cerys Jones). Roll on Series Two.

After that I turned to The ABC Murders, well aware that Agatha Christie adapter Sarah Phelps always serves up thoughtful rewriting (and replotting in some cases) since I reviewed And Then There Were None for The Arts Desk. Malkovich as Poirot? Ungenial, perhaps not Christie's detective, but a magnificent and compelling creation, so watchful.

All acting fine, cinematography beautiful or grim to look at (though they seem to have taken a bit of a train going through a landscape from last year's Scotland-set Witness for the Prosecution; no routes to the south coast from London look remotely like that). The original is one of the few I never read, so the twist came as a genuine surprise; I don't expect anyone would anticipate it.

Got to the end just before they wheeled me down for the second intervention, less painful than the first though I wished I didn't have to hear every word of the surgeon and assistants; I was trying to focus on the closing scene of Strauss's Daphne in my head. Now I just have to wait in line for the stonebreaking, which of course was done in a day two and a half years ago along with the rest in the Acibadem Private Hospital, Bodrum, Turkey. I'm afraid that because of NHS waiting times, worse than ever for cancer patients as The Guardian states today, I'm going to take up the very reasonably priced private healthcare plan J has just discovered.

Monday, 7 January 2019

Screamcougher and squalor

4.30am, and I shan't sleep, so here's a real-time rant from the heart of Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. Apart from the visitation of the manacled maniac - see the previous post - the worst here is the emaciated gentleman on the ward who coughs and retches for hours on end. Three nights ago I got two hours sleep. Then it was agreed that for his own sake as well as ours, since he didn't seem to have slept for 24 hours, a sleeping tablet would be best (with his agreement). That hasn't had much effect in the small hours today. I went to read in the TV room for half an hour around 3.30am, but it hadn't abated when I got back. The nurse just gave him something else and it all went silent for about 10 minutes, but it's started up again. In between we get 'Oh my God', 'Yallah, yallah', 'The end must come', 'What a dump', 'It's so hot in here' - and I'm not even sure if it's delirium, for he responds rationally if rudely to treatment.

So in the midst of all this I finally snapped. I went to the bathroom at 3am, trailing my drip-feed antibiotics on a stand attached to the cannula in my arm as well as my bag and tube attached to the left kidney. It seemed that one of the connections had come out, and the feed was dripping on to the bottom of the stand. A girl in blue I hadn't seen before was sitting at the desk outside our bay.

'I think one of these has come out,' say I, pointing to the tubes.
'I don't understand what you mean'.
'This - what I'm pointing at'.
'I have no idea what you're talking about. I don't work here [literally true, since like most folk I've seen in the small hours, she was looking at her Instagram account, but she was employed there, if only to tide over short staffing in the night shift]. You'd better ask someone else'.

Would you blame me for losing it?

Our night nurse is very good at his job, but he was on a break. There seemed to be only one nurse for all six bays, so it took another 10 minutes for her to come.

So many good people here, but in the last few days I've encountered two of the don't-cares. The other is an agency nurse who emptied my bag but left the nozzle untightened, so stuff leaked over the floor. When I told him he'd forgotten to tighten it, he said 'they work their way loose'. I said, no, that wasn't the case. A shrug, no apology.

My other beef is the squalor of the lavatories and bathrooms. An outside agency comes in three times a day to 'clean' (I've seen how perfunctory that is in the bays themselves, and the other day J and I were sitting in the Costa coffee bar downstairs on my daily excursion when a man with a wet mop came up, made a few wet patches and left all the floor around them, including all the food under the tables, untouched). The last appearance of its staff is at 2.30pm. So if, as happened the other day, someone comes in, drips blood, leaves discarded towels, gowns and swabs on the floor, etc, the bathroom can be left uncleaned until 8am the next morning .The nursing staff aren't allowed to remove the detritus, It makes me rage, this false economy. A Belgian friend tells us that hospitals there don't have our MRSA problem because they have 24-hour on site cleaners. And isn't hygiene in a hospital as important as the actual nursing? Joseph Lister would despair.

8.30am While the rest of us are prostrate after an exhausting night, our screamcougher is asked by the visiting doctor how he feels and says 'fine' (later, to a Chelsea Hospital administrator who said ' I hear you've been in some pain', he said, 'no, only a slight ache'). The plus is that they're sending him back to the unfortunate institution where he must make everyone else's lives hell. I addressed him this morning, 'Sir, I'm extremely sorry for your unfortunate cough but could you please tone down the complaining, There are a lot of people in here worse off than you' Mutterings and imprecations, but it worked - for 15 minutes. Anyway, they're coming to take him away shortly.

Friday, 4 January 2019

New Year on the ward

Entering my ninth day in a ward (I'm told not to name it) of Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, which makes me the oldest lag. And what haven't I seen over this period, waiting for my temperature to go down so that the tube and bag from my left kidney, infected from another trapped stone - for the first incident in Turkey, see here - can be replaced with a stent.I pick up fragments of stories from patients in the other five beds - huge imaginative possibilities even when surface-undramatic.

First we were three, a quiet far eastern Christian with friendly visitors, an equally quiet Muslim gentleman who had imam's prayers sounding from some device at the key times of day and his head bandaged from an assault (racist? It seemed unlikely he'd get in an attack himself). Next to join us, a dude with a manbun and a hand injury that required plastic surgery. Lived behind the screen rattling away in conversation with his girlfriend for 10 hours; when they snuck out, I knew it was for his daily cannabis fix despite explicit instructions from the medical team that he mustn't smoke anything. The next day it all went wrong between them after one such excursion - a barrage of French expletives from him drove her away, then she tried phoning the desk, and he said he wouldn't speak to her because she was drunk. He left the following morning, unaccompanied.

Supreme drama: 5.30am, a manacled maniac loud with apparent pain, two police officers at the foot of his bed. At 6 I couldn't bear more and went and sat in the telly room while he kept setting off the alarms and causing further havoc. I was stonewalled when I asked if they couldn't give him powerful enough sedatives. I only got a fuller story from a nice nurse three days later: he'd been arrested in possession of a knife and cocaine, and as soon as he was locked up immediately 'developed' this agonising pain. Obliged to take it seriously lest they had a death on their hands, the police brought him here, tests were made, nothing found. Interesting how he quickly moved from imprecations and 'you don't know what pain I'm in' (to me, when I finally said 'shut the f**k up', and I replied 'try me') to abusing the doctor who'd treated him and asking for his number (narrated the 'he took my trousers and pants down' with a demonstration the screen thankfully prevented me from seeing. 'Stop, sir, there are other patients here,' said one of the patient policemen. He was treated with remarkable courtesy by the professionals, not by me). Drug addict or psychotic or both? We shall never know, because finally, at 11.30am, he was carted back into custody and peace reigned for a bit.

Nights are never quiet here, yet I could only feel relieved that the next admission to that bed didn't arrive, similarly, until 5.30am and proceeded to retch violently for the next few hours. Skinny, shaven-headed and tattooed in black like a Siberian prisoner, he seemed gentle and soft spoken, though in major medical trouble. A couple of hours into New Year's Day, he apparently took out all his tubes and left. The nice bay nurse for the next stint established from his wife that he'd gone home, but he had to be readmitted that night (though not to our section).

His neighbour was a gentle youth from a posh family, possibly 17, well tended by his nice girlfriend. Returning from his appendectomy, his skin was the pallor of the poet in 'The Death of Chatterton', so Chatterton he became among us.

Moved to a bed by the window of the bay at the other end of the ward, I'm now in what is otherwise a geriatric ensemble. My hero is old John, 94, admitted with a fractured skull after falling over, believed by his two daughters to be at death's door ('come and see him, he may not last' was one phone conversation). The next morning he was up, asked to shave, decided to take sugar in his tea because it wasn't very nice and talked about receiving 'the Bishop' in his home for the weekend's church assembly. Difficult to converse with him because he keeps his hearing aids out until the daughters arrive in the afternoon. Wish I could have done so last night, because a Chelsea Pensioner newly admitted, loving to talk about the army and how he laid communications for the British army in Afghanistan, had a screaming cough accompanied by groaning all night.

The rest of us are quieter. I so like my genial neighbour, such a nice man, and even the querulous gentleman opposite him who is giving the folk here a very hard time is well-intentioned towards the rest of us. But how he snores! Last night I discovered this,

and it smothered all noises other than the screamcoughing. So I still only got two hours' sleep. Well, on to the end of Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan quartet, which has been an ever-increasing source of wonder, and to the conclusion of another teatralogy, the BBC Radio 3 broadcast of Götterdämmerung Act 3;  yesterday was the first when I actually wanted to listen to music. Meanwhile I wait for my temperature to stop 'spiking' before having any chance of going home.

Thursday, 27 December 2018

Berlioz's tender masterpiece

The more I hear L'enfance du Christ, the more I love it. So I'm glad to have taken the chance of the BBC Symphony Orchestra's latest performance - the previous one, six years ago, was also miraculous - to hold a class on the afternoon of the concert. One thinks of Berlioz as a lopsided master in the larger-scale works - or at least I do when it comes to Roméo et Juliette, still the high watermark of his most futuristic orchestration, and La Damnation de Faust - but there is structural perfection in this 'sacred trilogy in three acts and seven tableaux' (the score, surprisingly, is peppered with revealing stage directions, though I wonder if that has to do with the belated 1911 staging mentioned on the title page).

Its force turns out to have been centripetal. The anecdote of how the Shepherds' Farewell originated in a few bars of organ music inscribed in a friend's visitors book when Berlioz was bored by the others playing cards is well known. Bang at the centre of the work, it acquired movements either side for the little miracle that is now Part Two, 'The Flight into Egypt'.

Then, with the encouragement of Leipzig success, followed a sequel; and finally a prequel, the daring idea to start in darkness with the psychology of Herod, the uneasy ruler, adumbrated by three trombones and then two trumpets and two cornets for a brief climax of violent fanfaring before all the brass bar the horns disappear for the rest of the drama. Matthew Rose was at his most engaged in the Barbican performance (in the second of three photos by Mark Allan), and sounds very handsome indeed in the broadcast, unmissable on the BBC Radio 3 iPlayer.

I love especially the idea, realised in both BBCSO performances, that the worst, the bass role of Herod, should be doubled up with the best, the Ishmaelite carpenter who welcomes in the refugee family in Sais, Egypt, when all others have turned away the 'vile Jews'. Isn't this, even more than the Bethlehem story, the ultimate message for our time, compassion for strangers in need? Musically, it's underlined by the most anguished movement, with Berlioz's hallmark wail of diminished sixth to fifth, giving way to the beautiful bustle of the Ishmaelite household orchestral fugato and the exquisite ease of the trio for two flutes and harp which is especially striking in concert when, their labours nearly over, the rest of the performers can just enjoy the virtuosity and grace of a consummate handful?

And then that final, unaccompanied chorus, in which the fourth dimension - the angel choir that concludes each part - begins a descending-scale Amen twice completed by the tenor and the onstage chorus before the last benediction, pppp. This is Berlioz's gift to be simple in his own unique way; and how much he adds, in this most delicately scored of his works, to give a twist: the F to F flat within the A flat serenity of Mary's first apostrophe to her child, the orchestral coda of that number which reminds us of the bitter undertow to all the sweetness.

How wonderful, then, that the last major concert of the year I heard should have been Ed Gardner's loving performance. This work brings out the sensitivities of those singers who have a special dedication - especially true of Karen Cargill (I'll say it again, the great Berlioz interpreter of our time), Robert Murray and Matthew Rose. You felt that all three were tapping into the essence, and in that the BBC Symphony players, that exquisite woodwind department especially, were their equals. The interpretation will be in my 'best of concert year' for The Arts Desk tomorrow; meanwhile, here's the opera retrospective.

Representations of the Flight into by Bassano, Giotto and Carpaccio

Sunday, 23 December 2018

Brno's churches

Enter any one of the Catholic churches in the centre of Brno and you feel like you're in Italy. There always seemed to be quite a few folk engaged in quiet prayer, both young and old, when there weren't services at various times of the day during the week. Unquestionably the most fascinating, if not the most harmonious - that distinction belongs to S. Jakub (James), detail from the16th century pulpit of which I've pictured, for obvious seasonal reasons, above - is the doubly holy Minorite Church of St John and Loreto in Minoritska Street.

I mistook the main interior for the Jesuit Church, so rich in baroque decoration is it (by Johan Georg Schauberger and Johan Georg Etgens).

The chief lure, though, is the Loreto Chapel which you might miss if you didn't push at a door on the north side of the main church. It needs to be almost as large to house a replica of the Virgin and Child's flying abode of the Virgin which landed in said Italian town (we visited on a tour of the Marche some years back). There's a reproduction of Loreto's black Madonna on the altar within

and grisaille depictions of the miracle on the outer walls

as well as another depiction of the casa santa held by putti.

I don't know whether the cabinets of crib/presepe scenes and figures only come out before Xmas,

but they're of some curiosity, including handsomely clad Three Kings and entourage.

The east end is even more extraordinary than the reproduction holy house: an emulation of the Scala Santa, the 28 marble stairs in Rome's San Giovanni in Laterano, themselves an emulation of the Jerusalem steps on which Christ stood while being led to Pilate, traditionally ascended by pilgrims on their knees.

Schauberger's statue line this one, with fine crucifixion figures above the arch,

and apart from the old sacristan lady who followed me around, a solitary pilgrim was the only other person I encountered here.

And so back through the door with an elaborate virgin and child above it,

to the west end and organ

while a much smaller mechanical 'instrument' - I thought from Tchaikovsky's descriptions of his childhood it might be an orchestrion - was wielded by a Santa-like gentleman outside

whose wound-up merry tones had kept me company as I wandered around church and Loreto chapel, a nice antidote to the cult of suffering.

Work was being done on the main facade

and St Joseph further down the road was completely under scaffolding. But most other churches were open for business, including the very homely St Mary Magdalene, purportedly on the site of a synagogue in what had been the Jewish quarter. The first church I 'hit' every morning on the walk from my hotel to the north was S.Tomáš, with the spire of S Jakub beyond.

S. Tomáš, on the site of an Augustinian monastery, was closed except on one evening where the skating rink which looked so promising to the side of the church and in front of the Moravian Gallery

took off for action one very lively evening.

This time the very loud pumped music was no help to reflection within, though I liked the interior in semi-darkness, even if that meant I couldn't see its greatest treasure, Henricus Parlerius's Pietà of c.1385. On a sunny morning, though, the Gothic glory of S Jakub shines bright indeed.

The pulpit is on the left. The three stone reliefs - Nativity, Jesus in the Temple and on the Mount of Olives (or appearing on Tabor, according to whom you read) - date from 1526, the wooden transverse canopy from 1684.

There are plenty of other fine treasures - a northern Italian polychrome crucifix from the late 13th century,

lavishly carved pews of 1707, one set on each side of the main altar,

and the tomb (1718-27) of Louis Raduit de Souches, commander of Brno's defence against the overwhelming numerical superiority of Swedish forces in 1645.

Precious or not, the work on this door struck me as rather lovely.

Just round the corner is the Jesuit Church, where a service was going on, so I merely stood at the back

but did manage to observe this interesting chapel

with its oriental figures.

More than that I can't say, nor discover on the internet. What I do know is that the Jesuits came here in 1578, had the church completed in four years and the attached college in 50. Both served their purpose until 1773, when Joseph II dissolved the order. The whole college complex was pulled down in 1904, paving the way for some of the grandest apartment blocks in Brno on Dvořákova Street.

The Jesuits are back in control of the church now (they even wear leather jackets these days),

and welcoming the three wise men, in seasonal central European style, on the door.

This time, I didn't get to see the interior of the Cathedral of SS. Petr and Pavl on Petrov hill, though it seems to have had an unimpressive makeover. The steeples make it an attractive landmark, even though they're neo-Gothic, dating from 1901. From the Vegetable Market which was housing one of four major Christmas fairs in the centre

and from below,

as I walked towards the City Cemetery to pay homage at Janáček's grave - a long walk, though if I hadn't undertaken it I would have missed the fine Church of St Leopold across Brno's negligible river,

remarkable not so much for its interior, which I saw only through glass, but for the old pharmacy, still fulfilling its original function.

The cemetery has plenty of interest, but its other most celebrated inhabitant is Joseph Mendel the father of genetics, buried in the plot of the Augustinian monastery where he lived and taught.

The monastery was my main objective on the afternoon of my tour of 'functional' architecture in the north of the city. I arrived at sunset, and as promised the14th century Basilica of the Assumption of Our Lady was the grandest edifice in the city, externally at any rate.

The so-called 'royal' or 'Queen's' monastery was founded as a Cistercian convent in 1323. Joseph II ordered the Augustinians to move here from S. Tomáš in 1783.

At the entrance to the Mendel Museum, I bumped into folk I already know from the Habsburg Tour group (one of them, my student Robin Weiss, thinks his grandfather was taught by Mendel). They'd just had a guided tour of the monastery buildings - the only way to see the old Library and the inside of the Basilica. And as numbers for these tours have to be plentiful, I missed my chance; the first I could join would be after my departure.

How kind, then, of Eva on the desk, pictured above on the right, with her historian colleague, to unlock the church for me. Eva is a genetics student from the city's Masaryk University currently doing her PhD on the bones in the crypt of S. Jakub, and she was such nice company. I think I enthused them both about why they should go and see Janáček's operas; I found myself getting quite emotional in talking about them. Couldn't see a great deal of the Baroquicisation inside the theatreas it was dark with only a few lights to be found, but enough to sense the grandeur of the pillars and the general nobility of the building (no photos).

The public can attend the daily evensongs, but I couldn't stay for the one that day, alas. There are currently only three monks in residence, none of them Czech; what will happen, I wonder? Certainly the monastery was thriving, after its fashion, when Mendel made his experiments with pea-pods grown in the front garden and Janáček was sent here to board, as the musical child of a poor family, in the late 19th century. He had a rather melancholy time here, but did immortalise his time as a scholar in the 'March of the Bluebirds' movement of his Mladi (Youth) Suite for wind sextet (the boys were called 'Bluebirds' because of their uniform). Here it is, followed by the finale of the suite, as played by a top line-up of wind players including my idol as an oboist, Maurice Bourgue.

A plaque on an outside wall of the basilica is the commemoration of the piece and of Janáček's time here.

By the time of my tour and much time spent absorbing the excellent audio-visual displays of the Mendel Museum, which also houses his original, groundbreaking manuscript,

it was dark, the basilica nicely lit up.

My last glimpse of the Monastery was from above, on the bitterly cold (-6) last morning of my stay, when I walked up the Špilberk hill and around the edge of the castle with its grim history. Beyond the walls are the exhibition grounds, the first buildings dating from 1928 - another place I'd like to have had time for.

From the castle gardens, which must be a wonderful asset for citizens in the spring and summer, there's also a fine view of the Cathedral.

Impressive city - I'm waiting, as Janáček's Fox and Vixen put it, 'until next May comes' to return.