d4

Drominivich’s Fourth

The works of little-known composer Ilya Drominivich, often regarded as impenetrably complex in their orchestration, have been the subject of little enlightening scrutinisation since his death in 1975. Now, however, a critical dissection of his most under-performed work, the dark Fourth Symphony, has been uncovered.

The reviewer, music journalist Arnold Hiccup, analysed all Drominivich’s works, but this article, shedding light on one of the Isle Of Man composer’s later masterpieces, gives the most insight into the life and mind of what one denizen of the industry described as “just some bloke from an unremarkable island”.

Written between March and May 1970, Drominivich’s Fourth Symphony reflects a turbulent period in the composer’s life, charting notably his divorce from his ninth wife Jessie and the appearance of a hairline crack in the skirting board in his study.

The opening bars of the First Movement set the tone for the piece, rumbling timpani reflecting Jessie storming into the composer’s study to confront him about an affair she believed he was having. With the flitting horns, Drominivich waves her away, saying he’s busy, but the powerful double basses beat back the brass section’s protestations. In the background, the flute conveys Ellie the cat, wandering around the room.

Brass and percussion argue for a while, laced with counterpointing minor key stirrings from the violins, hinting at the melancholy that is to come. This can be seen to grow into what is commonly known as the “divorce theme”. With an eruption of the xylophone, Ilya admits to the affair, describing Anna in rich tones of viola and cello that temporarily quiet the atmosphere. Jessie storms out in a clamour of drums and cor anglais, and as the movement ends, Ellie the cat trots after her, leaving Ilya to throw down his pen in a clash of cymbals.

In the Second Movement, Drominivich looks back on his life. The mournful tone of the oboe charts his unhappy childhood living in a scrap metal yard in the town of Douglas. His parents died before he was conceived, leaving him to be brought up by his only friend Santos. The second violins hint at Santos’ own troubles, eking out an existence as a one-armed crane operator at the docks.

The brass section then takes up the theme of his first love affair with Leila, a butcher’s assistant. At age eighteen they ran away to the countryside to get married, and the beautiful strains of the clarinet chart their passionate lovemaking. Then comes a comedy interlude, the trombone representing Drominivich’s attempts to learn to juggle, while Leila looks on, laughing and wishing she’d eloped with Santos instead.

The unusual division of the strings into eight sections allowed the composer to chart all his subsequent marriages over interlaced bars of happiness, betrayal and loss. The First Violin part is astoundingly complex, painting Ilya’s mental wranglings as he blundered from one woman to another, desperately seeking happiness. This was the time he began composing, using his art as an outlet for his feelings, and as the movement closes the piccolo and flute do a dance—the flute representing the orchestra’s rehearsal of one of his early concertos, and the piccolo representing the feelings he was trying to convey in the same passage. In the final bars the careful listener can hear a solitary flute playing Ellie’s theme as the cat walks into the room, interrupting the composer’s pointless nostalgia.

The short Third Movement opens with raw shock as the composer, sat in his study remembering his past, suddenly notices the hairline crack in the skirting board. The trumpets blare with annoyance and then run amok as Ilya wonders whether the house is going to collapse along with his marriage. Kicking his chair back, Ilya goes to the skirting board crack, but as he does so, the French horn of the chair collides with Ellie’s theme, knocking the cat unconscious. The crack, portrayed by the triangle, takes up all Ilya’s attention, and he doesn’t notice Ellie’s theme vanishing into nothing.

The rest of the movement is dominated by Jessie’s return to the room to investigate the commotion. The “divorce” theme is developed, overlaid by the wailing trumpet as the woman sees the dead cat. Jessie, again as percussion, rails at Ilya for killing Ellie, but in a flurry of brass, he again throws her out of the room, slumping to his desk in the closing crescendo of cello and bassoon.

In the Fourth Movement, time has moved on a little and the “divorce” theme is repeated with many variations, the most notable of these being the “signing the divorce papers” melody, which is slightly mournful when matched with Ilya’s theme, but almost triumphant when vying with Jessie’s restrained percussionist musings. Ellie, who was a gift to Ilya by Jessie, is not missed by the composer at all, and the cat’s theme appears only briefly when the sad Jessie scatters its ashes over the Heston Services on the M4, the site itself being represented by the flugelhorn.

Jessie gone, Drominivich looks forward to a better life, thinking about Anna. This is the only re-appearance of Anna’s Theme, the violas representing her thighs and the tenor saxophone conveying Ilya’s hand snaking up between them. The tubular bells sound as Anna arrives at the front door and she rushes into her lover’s arms, with the full orchestra united in triumphal and stirring chords that round off the symphony in happiness.

After writing this article, however, Arnold Hiccup was committed to a lunatic asylum to undergo treatment for a personality disorder. It seems he only believed he was a noted critic of classical music; in fact he was an unemployed road-sweeper with a penchant for wearing earrings made of teabags.

Drominivich’s true influences remain a mystery.

After writing this article, however, Arnold Hiccup was committed to a lunatic asylum to undergo treatment for a personality disorder. It seems he only believed he was a noted critic of classical music; in fact he was an unemployed road-sweeper with a penchant for wearing earrings made of teabags.

Drominivich’s true influences remain a mystery.

Find a longer chuckle in my humour writing compendium of offbeat short stories on Kindle : The Real Jamie Oliver and other Stories

alphabet banner

Alphabet Soup

Tallyjohn sighed.

It was getting late and they had barely made any progress. He could see the hints of frustration etching into Quiggle’s face as he sank into the chair.

Tallyjohn, the King’s Master Of Letters, tapped his fingers agitatedly on the meeting room’s plain round table.

Quiggle sat down opposite. ‘This is like painting the Forth Bridge,’ he sighed.

‘The what?’ Tallyjohn asked. It was 1487 and the Forth Bridge hadn’t been built yet.

‘Never mind,’ replied the blonde-eyebrowed Quiggle, Language Advisor to the London University, even though London University hadn’t been invented yet.

‘We could stay here all night and come up with a million different answers,’ Tallyjohn offered. ‘He’ll only go and change it anyway.’

‘Well of course he will,’ replied the bald Master Of Letters, replete in his Metallica T-shirt, even though Metallica and T-shirts hadn’t been invented yet. ‘You can’t have S after B.’

‘Why not?’

‘Any fool can see that’s just plain idiotic.’

‘B, F, S, A, L. It just trips off the tongue.’

In response, Tallyjohn jumped up with a measure of indignation and slapped the whiteboard that hadn’t been invented yet. His finger snagged the magnetic cut-out S and it flipped to the floor. He bent down quickly and was about to slap it admonishingly back into place, but then slid the Q across a little and pressed the S to the board next to it.

He indicated the new sequence with a flurry. “Q, S, B, F, A, L etcetera. Much better.”

Quiggle rolled his eyes and shook his head sadly. “The University won’t stand for that. QSBF? Try lecturing that to some spotty nineteen year-olds.’

‘Teenagers aren’t my problem, Advisor. The King wants the alphabet arranged in a decent memorable order and I’m not losing the rest of the evening and night debating it.’ He looked at his non-invented digital watch. It was gone eight, and outside dusk was falling.

‘My tea will be getting cold too, you know. It’s salad tonight.’

‘So let’s try and agree. It’s only the King we have to please, not you or I.’

Quiggle thought for a moment and then nodded. ‘Okay.’ Even though okay hadn’t been invented yet.

‘Okay.’

‘But M, C, Z?’ the Language Advisor queried. ‘Hardly brilliant, is it?’

‘What?!’

Quiggle got up and pulled the magnetic Z off the board. He walked behind Tallyjohn and put the Z on the extreme left edge of the board. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘Z first. Start with a really angry letter, then all the other countries will sit up and take note. We’ll have the best alphabet in the world. See – it’s a purposeful start – ZHXJE.’

Tallyjohn threw his hands in the air. ‘I give up. You know what your problem is? Your problem is that the King isn’t your problem. He’s mine. If I go in there tomorrow and start with this ZHXJE nonsense he’ll have my head off faster than you can say Englebert Humperdink.’

‘Who?’ Quiggle asked.

‘Exactly. Nine o’clock—I give the presentation; five past nine—I’m ten inches shorter.’

‘Ten what?’

‘I won’t go in there with ZHXJETKO to start and that BFSAL crap in the middle.’

‘Then we’ll never agree.’

Tallyjohn shrugged. ‘Fine.’ 

‘Fine!’

‘Arrange your stupid alphabet how you want.’

‘No. You’re the King’s whipping boy. You bloody do it!’ With that, Quiggle strode to the door, threw it open and slammed it shut after him, making the walls and the board shake.

Tallyjohn glowered after him, but it did no good.

‘Fine,’ he shouted to the room. ‘Then that’s how it is. Either he likes it or I’m deader than a dodo, even though they aren’t dead.’

With that, he punched the board and wished he hadn’t, then, boiling at Quiggle’s hot-headedness and his own impending demise, left the room and gave the door a good old slam.

The board shook violently and all the letters fell off.

An hour later, the cleaner came in, dusted off the table, emptied the small waste paper bin and put a new plastic liner in its place, even though plastic hadn’t been invented yet. Tutting at the mess on the floor, he picked up the random heap of letters and carefully arranged them in a nice line on the board.

Find a longer chuckle in my humour writing compendium of offbeat short stories on Kindle :The Real Jamie Oliver and other Stories

weather ant

Weather Ant

For many generations, mankind has sought to forecast the weather, whether it be for personal interest or the public good. To put the latest development into context, we must briefly look at how weather forecasting has evolved through history.

The United Kingdom provides the sternest examination of the forecaster’s art, with its unique location and dreadfully dull inhabitants who seem unduly preoccupied with the clemency or otherwise of the conditions. 

Early cave paintings, discovered recently in Bromley, depict a man called Brian sticking his head out of the cave entrance and looking heavenward, then retreating inside to report to his commune that “It looks like rain”. This is followed by a discussion on the matter, particularly “What a lot of weather” they were apparently having. This tedium lasted until the following morning when it was time for Brian’s ritual sky-gazing and the pursuant soporific deconstruction. It appears that this pattern continued for many days until the commune realised that none of them had been out to hunt, and suddenly starved to death.

Victorian-era Derbyshire was graced by the legendary Mrs Climate (real name Geoffrey Whimsy) who astounded the small community of Speg with her predictions. Every evening at eight o’clock, Mrs Climate would announce her forecast for the ’morrow in the town square. The insight was based upon her perpetual sufferance from the common cold; if snot ran from her left nostril, it would be fine; if it ran from her right, it would rain. Records of the time show that her accuracy reached as high as fifty-six percent, and she was highly publicised until her untimely death in a strawberry picking incident.

The most notable advance of the nineteenth century was Waller’s Patented Weather Forecasting Machine, designed by Xavier Waller in 1897. This was the first mechanical device dedicated to climatology; an incredibly complex contraption roughly the same size as four pot-bellied pigs. Powered by a mulch consisting of finely shredded butterfly livers marinated in vinegar, the noisy machine span its various cogs and wheels, tapped its various tappets and whirred its sundry whirrs for nine hours before turning a dial clockwise or counter-clockwise depending on the predicted clemency. The first demonstration in Hyde Park was attended by some ten thousand people, and memorably the machine’s first public forecast was correct. However, rising the next morning to see the prediction come true, a self-satisfied Waller was mobbed outside of his front door by the Butterfly Protection League and elbowed into a coma.

Latterly, the steady advance of computers has contributed greatly to the accuracy of forecasting, but naturally is a costly process. The most recent trials in weather prediction have centred around a simple but effective process involving livestock.

Specifically, ants.

It has emerged that the Met Office have been undertaking secret forecasting tests within the bowels of their HQ, and, more startling, that some publicly distributed forecasts over recent months have not in fact been the result of immense computing power;

In 1998 a dull forecaster named Melvin Tuttle was examining his ant collection at home when he discovered that one of the tiny tunnels in soil of the antarium had collapsed, stranding an unfortunate ant. Not wishing to disturb the colony, Melvin left the ant to its fate—running in circles round the chamber—and set off for work, in the rain. That evening, he returned to find the ant still running. The weather, he remembered later, was still inclement. The following morning, it was still raining and the ant was still running. That evening however, the ant was very subdued, even though the weather had not subsided. By first light, Melvin was up, checking out the ant-ics. The isolated pet was digging. Outside it was fine.

This behaviour went on for a few days, and Melvin began taking notes. Soon, a pattern emerged. By noon, it seemed, the ant had a good idea of what the weather would be like for the following day—running for rain, quiet for sun, digging for cloud.

Melvin named the ant Predicto, and kept records of its success. He also wittingly caused another tunnel to collapse within his glass-contained ant colony, trapping another specimen, so he could ascertain whether Predicto’s talents were unique.

They were not.

Excited by his discovery, Tuttle passed on his findings to the director of the Met Office, Olly Solly, who initially laughed the man out of the building. Luckily for Tuttle, though, it was budget time for the business, and Solly’s brow was furrowing over the increasing costs of his bank of mainframes. Realising that by retaining the powerful computers, he would instead be under financial pressure to cut back on his attendant array of seven blonde secretaries and start spending more time with his wife Molly Solly, a brickie. As such, the director swiftly called up Tuttle and entered into discussions with the man he’d hitherto called an “insect molesting timewaster”.

Soon, Tuttle had relocated his ant farm to the Met Office HQ and began parallel forecasting alongside IBM’s finest. After a short period of adjustment for Predicto and colleague Foretello to get accustomed to the new microclimate, the ants began to match the computer for the accuracy of the following day’s forecasts.

Things were going well until Predicto died unexpectedly. Tuttle, however, was quickly on the case, and after a short period of mourning he installed a replacement—also called Predicto—into a larger cavern, this time with its own food supply and some miniature dirty magazines.

As different generations of Predictos and Foretellos came and went, Solly began to scale back his computing resources and rely more heavily on the combined talents of the ants. Every individual, when segregated from its peers, quickly took on the mantle of weather forecasting, unearthing a behaviour previously unknown to naturalists.

The Met Office managed to keep the whole deal quiet until last week, when Ant Rights protestors broke into the office and absconded with the colony. This spells trouble for Solly and Tuttle, who are known to be in discussions about whether to revive the project or return to the age of computing. They will surely be mindful of yesterday’s revelations linking Martin Whisper, Chairman of IBM, with the head of the Ant Rights Group, the shadowy Martina Whisper.

One thing is certain; we have not heard the last of animal experimentation in this field.

Find a longer chuckle in my humour writing compendium of offbeat short stories on Kindle :The Real Jamie Oliver and other Stories

The Gardener

‘Step into the drawing room, would you, Harman.’

‘Certainly, Mr. Wilkes.’

The gardener removed his cap, carefully wiped his boots on the rough mat by the back door, and made his way to the opulent room, its cool shade a relief from his labours. Quickly he was joined by his employer, dressed as usual in his tweed three piece suit.

There was a moment’s silence, and Harman was a little apprehensive, being unused to an invitation into the house. He thought that it must be a horticultural matter of a particularly serious nature.

Jeremiah Wilkes cleared his throat. ‘Well, Harman, the reason I have asked you in here is to discuss, ah, an important matter. A horticultural matter of a particularly serious nature.’

Harman nodded gently, a little self-satisfied.

His employer continued. ‘This garden of mine, of ours, was recently, as you know, voted one of the top fifty gardens in England. Much of that has been down to your stewardship, for which we all here at Wilkes Manor are grateful.’

‘Thank you sir.’

‘Lately however it has come to my attention that things are starting to look a little less than sprightly, less than perfect. A little forlorn, even.’

‘I’m sorry to hear that, Mr. Wilkes.’

‘And I’m sorry to have to say it, Harman. But the garden is not what it once was.’

‘The weather has been unseasonably warm, sir.’

‘I agree. But I think there is more to it than that.’

‘Indeed, sir?’

‘Indeed. The rose garden, for instance.’

‘The rose garden, sir?’

‘The rose garden. It seems a little bereft of roses just lately.’

‘Rotation of the soil, Mr. Wilkes. The beds need alternative plants for a few years, to regenerate.’

‘And which plants are we expecting to grow there?’

‘The fuchsias and rhododendrons, sir.’

‘Fine. And are we in the midst of this rearrangement?’

‘We are indeed, sir.’

‘And where are the plants meantime?’

‘Temporary storage, sir.’

Wilkes nodded slowly. Harman licked his lips nervously.

‘The foxgloves are looking a little thin on the ground. Last year they were excellent.’

‘They were indeed, sir.’

‘The rockery plants have gone as well, I see. And the rocks, in fact.’

‘I’m working on a new design, Mr. Wilkes. A seaside theme. I’m sure you’ll like it.’

‘It’s just that, well, we have an impressive collection and it has some value.’

‘I can quite understand sir. It’s certainly a garden to be envious of.’

‘Or was. The walled garden, for instance. Glorious for many years. Beautiful reds, wonderful yellows. Many comments have been made about the astors.’

‘I am very proud of those, Mr. Wilkes.’

‘But all gone now, it would seem. The walled garden is no more. Nor the walls.’

‘As I say, sir, the weather has been unseasonably warm. And the greenfly a touch voracious.’

‘On the walls, Harman?’

‘A new strain, I wouldn’t wonder. From Africa.’

‘The thing is, Harman, I was casting an eye over the list of entrants for this year’s Best English Garden competition. I see that you yourself are entering your garden at home for consideration.’

‘I take great pride in my own garden as well as your own, sir.’

‘I’m sure. I took the liberty of asking my driver to swing past there yesterday. Very impressive. It’s almost as if you were replicating the garden at Wilkes Manor.’

‘I like to think of it as an homage, sir.’

‘Hmmm.’ Wilkes nodded slowly. ‘Well, just see that it doesn’t take up too much of your time. We need you here on a full time basis with the competition coming up.’

‘Indeed sir, you need not worry.’

‘Good. Then that’s all. I’ll leave you to the garden.’

Harman nodded his acceptance. Jeremiah Wilkes straightened his waistcoat, turned and left the room. The gardener was quickly in pursuit, sweeping a new Coalport vase from a side table as he passed and secreting it under his jacket.

Find a longer chuckle in my humour writing compendium of offbeat short stories on Kindle :The Real Jamie Oliver and other Stories

Books by Chris Towndrow

The Rich List

The annual publication of the UK “Rich List” is an eagerly awaited occasion, with much journalistic attention being given to its upper echelons. This, however, ignores the achievements of some of its less well-publicised members. In order to go some way to redress this balance, there follows an excerpt from the 2017 List.

Ranked No. 1876

J. Simon Harpenden, Bricklayer

Just pipped by the Spum brothers, Mr Harpenden has nevertheless had a very successful year, if a sad one. The death of his wife Irma in a tragic cucumber picking accident has reduced outgoings tremendously, allowing this resourceful individual to climb well into the top 2000.

Ranked No. 1877

Herbert Spill, Computer Programmer

A bad year for Mr. Spill, who, despite fixing the “Q” on his keyboard, suffered from financial losses after the publication of the 2016 List. He drops 198 places after blowing a cool five hundred large on a big party to celebrate his rise up the rankings last year.

Ranked No. 1878

Jemina Smith, unemployed

Heir to the Smith fortune of over £10bn, Jemina has eschewed profligacy, despite her fondness for designer socks. It has been reported that her father has refused to build any further extensions to her house, thus limiting the size of her footwear collection to its present 62,128 pairs.

Ranked No. 1879

Martin Crisp, transvestite and father of nine

Mr(s) Crisp is a new name on the Rich List this year after blackmailing the Governor of the Bank Of England.

Ranked No. 1880

Paul What, insurance salesman

Paul What faces expulsion from the Rich List as his trial draws to a close. If convicted, he will be stripped of his fortune, amassed by selling “Sun” insurance policies to old people. These policies, built on weekly or daily contributions, were only due to pay out if the sun did not rise the following morning.

Ranked No. 1881

Jane Kirkby-Follicle, inventor

Sales of her patented diamond-encrusted fishing rod have been very sluggish, and the inventor has been forced to put up personal money to keep the business afloat. She drops 762 places. As a consequence, her place as one of the most eligible spinsters in Rugby is under threat.

Ranked No. 1882

Smith Walston, pothole maker

Smith Walston has been a controversial figure over the last three years, but this hasn’t affected his wealth. He continues to thrive on his retainers, paid by local construction companies who defraud county councils and thus the taxpayer.

Ranked No. 1883

Q. Milkfancy, recycler

Mr. Milkfancy is suffering troubled times, struggling to maintain profits by stealing empty beer glasses from pub gardens and selling them off.

Ranked No. 1884

Miss S. Trouble, heiress

Miss Trouble continues to gently fritter away her family fortune, dropping 65 places. Her great grandfather Ben Trouble, of course, is famous for inventing the word ‘embryo’.

Ranked No. 1885

David David, investor

A very recent success story, David David made millions by carefully timed investments in rubber tulips for deaf children.

Find a longer chuckle in my humour writing compendium of offbeat short stories on Kindle :The Real Jamie Oliver and other Stories

advanced sexual positions

Advanced Sexual Positions

“The Illuminator”

Good for  :  Reducing the “To Do” list

Not recommended for  :  Use outdoors, overweight couples

The man stands on the chair (recommend a sturdy kitchen-type chair, no wheels or cushions) with his buttocks against the chair back. The woman gets onto the chair and stands facing away from the man. The woman bends over until her back is at a 45 degree angle. When the man has attained a comfortable position, he changes the light bulb.

“The Surf N Turf”

Good for  :  Women called Stacey

Not recommended for  :  Vegetarians

The woman assumes the Crab position. The man assumes the Llama position.

“Just Coming, Love”

Good for  :  Safe sex

Not recommended for  : Energetic types

The man lays on the bed and achieves a state of preparedness while the woman removes her nail polish in the bathroom. The man falls asleep.

“Giving The Bird”

Good for   :  Wierdos

Not recommended for   :   Men with a fear of common fowl

The man lays on the bed. The woman straddles him and flaps her arms, clucking like a chicken.

“The Long Shot”

Good for   :  Energetic types

Not recommended for   :  Those with sensitive eardrums, impatient couples

The man and woman both engage in a rigorous 9-month course to train as Human Cannonballs. Having graduated, and when the mood is right, the couple enlist the help of professionals to set up two cannon in close proximity. Consulting appropriate experts, the couple ensure that the cannon are arranged such that the two flight paths intersect about 2 seconds after the cannonballs leave the barrel.

Both cannon are fired simultaneously. The man and woman – wearing the appropriate safety headgear – meet in mid-air, copulate, and fall to earth (a safety net).

It is recommended that both parties attain a significant state of arousal before being fired. Intercourse lasts less than 4 seconds. This position requires tremendous practice and is notoriously difficult to get right. Female orgasm has been recorded only once.

“The Obvious Deception”

Good for   :  Future divorcees

Not recommended for   :   Those who buy their milk at the supermarket 

The man goes to an important conference in Hastings. The woman shags the milkman.

“The Un-Obvious Deception”

Good for   :  Confused husbands

Not recommended for  :  Those who buy their milk at the supermarket 

The woman goes to an important conference in Hastings. The man shags the milkman.

“The Good Neighbour”

Good for   :  Suburbanites

Not recommended for  :  High rise apartment block dwellers, left-handed people

Best on a sunny Sunday afternoon. The woman pours herself a Pimms and lays out in the garden on the recliner, and soon falls asleep. The neighbour looks over his fence, sees this, dons his gardening gloves and takes the opportunity to trim the woman’s bush. When he is finished, he wakes the woman. She tells him it looks nice, but that he should clean up the leaves. He does this and then they make love.

Mowing the lawn is an acceptable substitute.

“The Yee-Hah”

Good for  :   Practising your balance

Not recommended for   : Hemharroid sufferers

The woman mounts the horse. The man mounts the woman.

“The Politician And The Mistress”

Good for   :   Role-players

Not recommended for   :  Honest people

The woman lies down on the bed. The man lies.

Find a longer chuckle in my humour writing compendium of offbeat short stories on Kindle :The Real Jamie Oliver and other Stories