Trusted not to fiddle...

WE always had a piano. My mother played excellently, had passed high-grade examinations at it. In my childhood she was often in demand for parties; later, getting her to play pieces would be a treat if I had friends in. In her middle forties she gave it u

WE always had a piano. My mother played excellently, had passed high-grade examinations at it. In my childhood she was often in demand for parties; later, getting her to play pieces would be a treat if I had friends in. In her middle forties she gave it up, an awful shame.

My sister learned to play, but I never did - wasn't asked, and it remains a regret of mine. Piano or the violin, I would have liked either. Plenty of boys in my time had weekly lessons with the front-room music teachers who were numerous (Miss Muffet, LRAM, Pianoforte and Singing), and vied to perform their best-practiced numbers in the end-of-term concert.

I like music. I don't mean rock - those groups called Plum Duff, Proboscis, Blotto, etc., all sound the same to me, as do the female singers. My enjoyments are chiefly classical, traditional jazz, and bands and instrumentalists of forty and fifty years ago.

Not necessarily sharing those tastes, my sons are keen on music; and all of them can play it. This leads to what I want to relate.


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One Saturday in the early 1970s we - my wife and I, and two of them - were returning from a holiday in Somerset. It was summer and the roads were crowded; I turned off to take a longer but more agreeable route. In the middle of the afternoon we stopped in Salisbury.

On the central square was a large open-air market. Irresistible: we walked round, among the stalls. This one had an array of interesting second-hand goods, including a violin. The man was standing behind, squeezing notes from a concertina. One of our young sons said with his eyes gleaming: "I'd like that violin."

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A fair price, a splendid opportunity. However, it would be an expenditure of cash I might need on the rest of the journey. We were strangers to the man, of course: not very hopefully, I asked him if he'd take a cheque. He did, without demur.

We took the violin home marvelling at, and grateful for, his trust. Next day the son who hadn't accompanied us saw it; we told him the story. When we described the stall and the man standing there, he said: "What happened to the concertina? I would have liked that."

Well, the man had an uncommon name. I'd written it on the counterfoil of the cheque; so I tried directory enquiries to see if he was listed in the Salisbury area. Found him!

He still had the concertina, told me how much, and would be pleased to send it to us. It arrived a week or so later; whereupon I sent another cheque to him, price with cost of stamps added.

Why has that little episode stayed so strongly in my mind? Even at the time, maybe thirty-seven years ago, few people - let alone a market stallholder - would have transacted on trust so readily. I doubt if anything like it could happen today.

I do complain of music, because it should take place between consenting persons: don't want it force-fed to me in shops, cafes, the streets and places set up to remedy suffering.

Nevertheless, it is important and enriching. My mother's last few months were spent in a residential home, and in the lounge was a grand piano which appeared never to be used. Forty years before, she had resolved not to play any more. I reflected how much pleasure she could have given to others, and herself, in that time.

As far as I know, the violin and concertina are still in the family, along with other instruments. Glad we met you, Salisbury man.

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