David Shonfield: Introducing Croquet and Tchaikovsky to the youth of South-East London

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“Change the culture, change the mind.”

Magnus Murgatroyd’s famous quote from the title of his 2011 best seller was eagerly picked up by Richard Bastiman M.P. (Con – Little Witteringham and Pusey). Ever since the P.M. had given him the task, as Chair of SORARCE (Sources of Rioting and Religious, Cultural Ethnicity), to find a solution to youth unrest and racial conflict, he had been searching for a yardstick to work with.

Whilst the pundits were still mulling over the whys and wherefores of the Inner City Riots, Bastiman saw it as an opportunity to tackle his brief. Eureka! Murgatroyd may well have hit the nail on the head. If we could only change their culture, we might be able to change their mindset. ‘Channel all that testosterone into manageable proportions’, to quote the author.

Time was of the essence since the whole country (well mainly London and the Home Counties) were looking forward to a peaceful, well-organised Olympic Games. No one, least of all the P.M. and the Mayor wanted another repetition of the August mayhem.

And then there was the number of teenage murders for 2011; fifteen including eleven stabbings.

The Committee was due to meet on Wednesday and he wanted to get the first thoughts of the more progressive members (the ‘movers and shakers’) beforehand.

Cleghorn (Lab-Wrickmansworth) emailed – ‘suggest social experiment in South East London, where the trouble was rife. Music is important aspect.   Rap far too loud and aggressive. Can’t see anyone torching a building to Country or Folk. Can we synthesise MP3 players ? Is it legal ?’

Shirley Tatham (Con – Cricklewood North) – ‘They all need a good taste of steel (the rioters of course) up their jacksies. Very few have thought processes let alone culture.’

Keith Watterson (Lib-Dem – Chipstead Valley) – ‘A mindset is very much formed in adolescence. For instance how many of the rioters went to Private or Public schools? Could we subsidise the English National Opera or even the Ballet for council kids(shades of Billy Elliot). Regular evening performances at local venues? It’ll get the kids off their play stations, and give them much needed exercise.’

After digesting these comments Bastiman formed a leaning towards Watterson. Culture was expensive but with so many left wing ‘artistes’ out of work they might be able to cobble together a scheme that would pander to their consciences. Some workshops where instead of the constant inane chat/music of Kiss FM, some Radio 4 afternoon plays could be analysed  and the music of Mozart/ Tchaikovsky discussed(they had to spell his name correctly first of course). He doubted that any of them knew that Mozart was writing and performing music before most of them had started primary school. A genius by any ones’ standards.

Melody was important to the ancient Greeks as it was to the Great Composers. It wasn’t so much tom-tom rhythm that influenced the philosophies of Aristotle, Plato and Socrates, or the lyrical, mellifluous poetry of Homer and Euripides. He was convinced that the incessant barrage of aggressive rhythm from rap and hip-hop and the repeating of monotonous riffs was destroying the equilibrium of the minds of the current youth, like water torture. Where were the melodies? It was like our poor boys, in another generation, being subjected to the constant German bombardment in the trenches of the 1st World War. Boom, Boom, Boom .Some of them lucky enough to come home alive ended up brain-dead.

How could you eat a Happy Meal to Snoop Dogg ?(his enunciation alone was hardly an aid to digestion). Whereas Tchaikovsky’s offerings were sumptuous. Even the most ardent McDonald Big Mac user couldn’t fail to be affected by the ethereal melodies from Swan Lake. Couldn’t picture the Waltz or the Dance of the Little Swans in his/her mind’s eye without feeling contented, the music like a first-class diet producing the necessary chemical serotonins to fine-tune the brain, to calm the nerves and release the aggression. He had witnessed on U Tube how adults had become over-joyed, experiencing proud, regal, graceful, luxurious and sublime moments listening to this music. But inner-city kids from the ghettoes had never experienced classical music before, let along Tchaikovsky. If they only knew the benefits.  They didn’t need drugs to ‘get a fix’ with their Nirvana, they just had to be re-tuned to Classic FM. It was all a question of the re-training and learning programme; getting them acclimatised.

Bastiman was getting too engrossed with his thoughts, as he replayed the Croydon and Tottenham conflagrations. They had to be careful with Wagner, Holst, and a few other composers. Bad influences for novices.  He could see the flames rising even higher from some of their more strident work;  the overtures to Tannhauser, Lohengrin  or Die Walkure and Mars The Bringer of War. That was asking for trouble. No, Tchaikovsky was the remedy (not his 1812 of course). Sweetness and light. Get his catchy tunes embroiled on their I Phones. There was also The Nutcracker and The Sleeping Beauty to delve into, not forgetting his Piano Concerto, and oodles and oodles of others.

So it was with these thoughts in mind, committed to a discussion paper that Bastiman opened the SORACE meeting the following Wednesday. Straight away, as he had hoped, he had an ally in Watterson.

‘I agree aesthetically we ought to give Tchaikovsky a go,’ he acknowledged. ‘It’s a wonder the Russians haven’t tried him, or do their Secret Police still rule with a rod of iron? And we mustn’t forget the obesity problem. We’ve got to provide them with some form of exercise.’

‘Not team games’ piped up Shirley Tatham ‘these kids are not team players. In the main they’re nasty, narcissistic individuals.’

Bastiman scowled across at the Hon. Member for Cricklewood North. ‘I’m looking for constructive proposals here’ he fumed ‘some of these kids come from families that haven’t worked for a generation. They’re immersed in a moronic lifestyle, where flicking the remote is the most exercise they get in a day.’

‘So that gives them the right to go on the rampage, rob honest shopkeepers and burn their premises’, she responded belligerently.

‘No of course not.’ Bastiman reduced his tone by a couple of octaves and mused about the Kirov’s recent production of Swan Lake. Sublime. He felt privileged. It was an ideal opportunity to test his thesis.

‘Look, I know some of you have reservations about this project, so I’ve brought along my London Philharmonic recording of Swan Lake with Sir Adrian Boult conducting circa 1967, converted to CD of course. Sit back, close your eyes and relax. It’s got to work on you before we can expect it to work on them.’

Bastiman nodded to a steward at the end of the room and soon the rich melody of the Waltz was filling the sound waves. Ten minutes in he studied their faces. There was a distinctive change to the body language of Shirley Tatham. She seemed to be humming away to herself, like a Queen Bee. He also noticed that Watterson had folded his arms and was drinking in the atmosphere. He smiled to himself appreciatively.

Also listening in an ante-room were a dozen hand-picked unemployed sociologists, who had expressed an interest in the project. Not all of them liked Tchaikovsky, Michelle and Roderick Naismith, who had come along to extol the virtues of  Croquet as the quintessential English game, were listening to Morrissey on their iPods. It was not just the game and the artist that they enjoyed together, their hobby was model railways. They were volunteer members of the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway. Their own croquet pitch backed on to the line at the bottom of their garden.   They had already emailed Bastiman with proposals for setting up a training centre and a junior South London Croquet League. They adhered to John Major’s ‘Back To Basics’ philosophy. They pointed out that during the height of the British Empire the game of Croquet spread faster than tobacco smoke, and that England now have six of the top ten in the current world rankings. It required tactical ability, judgement and skill, rather than brute strength, and that like cricket they could envisage the majority of the Asian youths getting to grips with the game with very little tuition.

The discussion in the main committee room had turned to the suppression of music and text to M3 Players and similar new technology now available on the market. It was the point that Cleghorn had earlier highlighted.

‘I’m glad that we all agree that any form of censorship is abhorrent ‘ said Bastiman after the end of a lively debate. ‘It has connotations with the Thought Police and Big Brother.  Our job is to ‘educate’ the youth of to-day. And with that objective in mind I’d like to hear the views of our specially selected volunteers.’ He nodded again to the steward at the end of the room. ‘Would you kindly show them in.’

It was befitting that the Naismiths had just finished listening to the track ‘That’s How People Grow Up’ as they were summoned into the committee room, the austere wooden panelling complementing the melancholy mood of Morrissey wasting his life always thinking about his self. It made them think about the future, the future of the youth of the country; selfishness was already becoming embodied into their psyche. Morrissey’s words were prophetic. And like a lot of his work it was anti-establishment.

When it came to Michelle’s turn to speak, to support her case she mentioned that the rapper P.Diddy held croquet parties on becoming the first rap artist to be given a star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame. So the game was cool as far as the American youth were concerned and this fact should be emphasised in any publicity launch. In addition Mr Diddy was associated with London youth projects. He often came over from the States to become involved. Bastiman picked up on this point and thought it beneficial if the committee could get him on board. There was general agreement on this and that the coupling of Croquet with Swan Lake should be their committed goal. It was Cleghorn who suggested a pilot scheme at the Crystal Palace under the supervision of the Naismiths.   If possible they should try for a London Sympathy Orchestra to play the full score as background music.  The cost would be included in some sponsorship deal; Bastiman was hoping that one of the Big 4 Supermarkets would became involved. And later, if there was sufficient support,  for a tour of the orchestra ( Benjamin Britain’s Young Persons’ Guide.) How many kids from a council estate knew what a bassoon was? Bazooka yes, but a bassoon?

Watterson made the point that they should exclude the well-known supermarket who were using youngsters as work experience and not paying them. The same company advertised vacancies in something called ‘ambient replenishments’ which turned out to be stacking shelves.

Bastiman picked up on this phrase and thought the press campaign should be entitled —ambient reappraisal of youth culture in South East London— and that Charles Saatchi should be given the opportunity to apply his own inimitable style of advertising.  He said that one of his ‘Dragon’ associates had numerous factories in Pakistan that could produce the Croquet kits fairly cheaply. Money from the Lottery Fund would cover the costs.

At the end of a very productive meeting Bastiman went back to his office to work on a paper to update the P.M. and then to summon all the South London members to listen to his 1967 recording of Swan Lake. It was so inspirational that he was sure that once they heard Sir Adrian’s interpretation they would be hooked on the scheme.  He was already dreaming of the resurgence of croquet lawns at all the major English country houses, and how to get the Prince of Wales involved. High Fives at Highgrove. On second thoughts perhaps not, croquet wasn’t really his game, but there was always Sir Alan Sugar, although he couldn’t see him being a big Tchaikovsky fan.   Sir Richard Branson ?

Meanwhile the Naismiths returned to the Kent countryside to work voluntarily on their local railway, and to plan for their Crystal Palace mission. Morrissey would be an integral part of both these activities.  Like Tchaikovsky, whether he liked it or not, he was being drawn into The Big Society.

Brought up and educated in South East London, married (48 years) with two daughters,  David served 36 years with the Metropolitan Police Civil Staff, before taking early retirement in August 1995. Having successfully completed The Writers Bureau Course, David has had articles published in History To-day, Medieval History, Best of British(three), Heritage, Yours, Evergreen, and Sea Breezes, in addition to short stories and poems published in small press magazines ie. The new writer, Acorn, Voyage, Carillon, and Cimmplicity

David has had his poem —The Coffee Shop —published, and 3 novels, ‘The Stakeholders’ and ‘The Coincidence of the Palm House Murder’, which have received positive reviews on Amazon.  The Games People Play is his first attempt at a satirical, political novel, and can also be obtained on Amazon.

David  was shortlisted for the H.G. Wells short story prize in 2011 and  2015. He also won 2005 Freelance Market News’ CRIME SHORT STORY COMP with ‘Confession is Good for the Soul.’

His favourite author is Brian Moore (regrettably no longer in fashion) and his favourite poet is John Masefield.

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