For quite a while I’d been looking forward to giving a talk about my work in Malling Abbey, Kent, as part of the Music@Malling festival. It was even rumoured that some of the Anglican Benedictine nuns resident there might attend this talk. Their Order first came to this beautiful place in the late 11th century (part of the surviving buildings date from just after then). Needless to say they were turfed out in 1538 by the disgraceful actions of Henry VIII, but after many a twist and turn, were able to return here early in the last century.
It happens that I’d spent the long hot summer rereading some favourite Iris Murdoch novels, especially The Bell, where (spoiler alert) a rather hopeless lay community is saved from peril by the acute nuns who live next door. But in a plot twist which Dame Iris would have thought excessive, my train to Malling stopped in a field just outside Otford and waited two and a half hours, while various dangerous things befell the track and then the train’s brakes. As the minutes to my talk came closer and then hopelessly expired, I was texting festival director Tom Kemp who decided to give the talk himself . “Talk going well !” he texted back at one point.
Eventually we 35 calm passengers were released from the train by a needlessly full-scale disaster team, whereupon I was happy to encounter Tom’s dad, who ferried me swiftly down to Malling, in time for a fabulous solo recital in the Abbey given by cellist Richard Harwood. This took place in the Abbey church, an interesting 1960s concrete addition with incredibly delicate acoustics. Afterwards I was at last able to meet the delightful nuns, who presented me with a selection of the chants composed by them and used in their daily prayer. What a joy and an honour, with the travails of the morning swiftly forgotten.
Pictured with the nuns (at left) Richard Harwood and Thomas Kemp.