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Queen Guitar Rhapsodies

Oh Summers, Why Art Thee Gone, Never To Return?

A time there was to play my guitar in a Spanish wheat field

I have two images of summer which recur in my mind yearly around this time when I feel its imminent arrival: band-stands in London parks and wheat fields in Valencia close to which I, not yet a teenager, played my guitar.

The summer over-excites the English for there is no knowing how long it will last - this may be the last day, even the only day all year. Enjoyment is frenetic, loud and sweaty. When I was a child my summers began by rowing with my father on London's River Lea. Sometimes I lay on the grass of my local park smelling and feeling its wetness, surprised by the tickly feeling of an ant crawling across my ankle. Around me children and young men (so grown-up and monumental to my child's eye) organised impromptu cricket matches, while mothers spread out a picnic of cheese and cucumber sandwiches. The sound of a band striking up would draw me running to it in breathless excitement.

Iron-coated wheels driving the donkey-drawn carts would wake me in the morning

Some years I spent July and August in Spain with my relatives in a Valencian village a few miles inland from the coast: me as a child and a dozen others, none of us taller than the longest stem in the wheat-field through which we dared plunge to spite the farmer. Summoned after a thorough washing and change of clothes for our merienda (tea-time), I would devour a massive French stick of bread stuffed full of thick Spanish omelette, tasting better than anything before or after on that day. Uniformed maids hovered around attending to details, just like a scene from middle-class Edwardian England.

The sound of iron-coated wheels driving the loaded donkey-drawn carts would wake me in the morning, one solitary sunbeam piercing through a crack in the wooden shutters enough to alert me to the blinding light and imminent heat of the day.

Early summer in London always surprised and delighted by the ice-cream van arriving with acute timing to park itself at the top of the street, blasting out snatches of tune. Children including me begged their parents for a lolly, a choc-ice, a cornet, anything please please mum, for this was the greatest pleasure of all time, the English equivalent of my Spanish merienda.

I played hide-out in the unreconstructed bomb site where a terrifying tramp, rarely seen, was supposed to live in the tangle of weeds and broken brick-work which was once a house in the East End of London.

Most afternoons I would play a guitar on the patio of our house facing the wheat field

In the evening the smell of white jasmine would spread through the Spanish night while I crouched down to see the mysterious glow-worms in the flowerbeds, a chorus of cigalas providing the musical background. Up above a million stars twinkled in a pure unpolluted darkness undimmed by city lights.

Most afternoons, especially when I became older, I would take out a guitar and play through my pieces, often to entertain my relatives, friends and neighbours gathered in the patio of our house facing the wheat field, in the very village where lived one of Tarrega's surviving students (not that this meant much to me at the time).

When I was very small we would linger in Spain until the first week of September and await the crashing thunderstorms and violent rain which signalled the end of summer.

As a teenager I would return before the storms to London for the start of the school term. Putting on my school uniform on the first day was a defining moment: summer had been well and truly nailed into its coffin.

The only thing to look forward to on that grim day was resurrection itself in the shape of the next summer.

9th June, 2013, London

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