Books: Brrm! Brrm! — Chapter 9 |
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The autumnal equinox in late September is a national holiday in Japan. For Japanese abroad it is a time of long phone calls home and drinking parties to drown distance. Preferring to be alone yet still lonely, Suzuki gave himself a treat. The most important cultural event he had attended for some time, it was a new production of Hamlet by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Barbican theatre. Suzuki was blessedly unaccompanied. Holding his expensive programme, he leaned forward alertly. He knew the work well, having studied the text in detail at school. Always painfully aware that very few of its phrases can be used in a modern conversation, he had nevertheless memorised them by the dozen. He could recite ‘To be or not to be’. There was no line in the play he could not recognise. Now, however, seeing it acted, he continually found the words moving just too fast for him to follow. This induced depression, but it was a depression he understood. A confusion he did not understand was created by some of the action. When Polonius suggested to Claudius and Gertrude that he and they should withdraw to observe Hamlet, the conversation took place with Hamlet already approaching. If they could see him, why could he not see them? He was looking at a book, but surely the conspirators could not safely assume that he would not look up and see them. It was puzzling. After the performance, Suzuki — who no longer cared how late he got home to his own little room, even if he had to go by taxi — called on Rochester-san for a late evening drink and an exchange of views.

‘Sheer bloody incompetence on the producer’s part,’ asserted Rochester-san with the carefully articulated crispness which proved that he had already been drinking by himself. ‘Sheer bloody arrogance. Kind of thing that stopped me going to the theatre. Could have been a theatre critic. Should have been a music critic. Would have been right on top by now. Heard this?’

‘No. Is it good? I have been told Rachmaninov is quite weak.’

‘Don’t you believe it. The Preludes are a big test of a piano player. Takes muscle, like Richter. But Ashkenazy gives them the punch and the lyricism. Listen to this.’

Suzuki listened to the extent that Rochester-san didn’t talk. All over again Suzuki was fascinated by Rochester-san’s expenditure of effort. Obviously it mattered to him that Suzuki should hear this music. Yet he talked while it was being played. How was such confusion of mind possible? Unhappiness must be the reason. Yet he, Suzuki, who was unhappy too, would not do such a thing. Across the face of a sweet waterfall of notes, Rochester-san’s voice cut and hung like a helicopter.

‘... sad that Brendel won’t touch Rachmaninov. Got a real hate about Sergei, old Alfred. Told me about it once. Said he’d rather do all the Bach and Beethoven and Mozart and Schubert and Liszt ten times each than touch even one little piece of Rachmaninov. Beneath contempt, he thinks. And yet when you think about it, Rachmaninov wasn’t just a great composer for the piano. He was a great player of the piano. Like Brendel himself, Rachmaninov was the great player of Chopin, Better than Cortot. As good as Rubinstein. Well, almost as good as Rubinstein. Extraordinary that Brendel isn’t impressed by that. Man who writes so well about music. I mean Brendel, not Rachmaninov. Brendel is a man who writes really well about music. I should have written about music. Would have been right on top, now. Chauffeured car, silver-topped cane, every column anticipated and dreaded. Anticipated. Dreaded. My paper did that for Ken Tynan. Could have done the same for me. Instead, early retirement beckons. I sit in those damned editorial meetings and I haven’t got a thing to say. What do I know about the stock market?’

‘It will collapse,’ said Suzuki, his mind only half present. In his imagination, Jane sprawled wantonly and laughed. Mrs Thelwell suffocatingly warmed his bare back. Lilian rested one Reebok-clad foot waist high before her on the transverse bar of a Nautilus machine and reached forward to lay her chin on her shin, her breasts in her pink T-shirt divided snugly by her vibrant thigh. Suzuki had his confusions too. They just didn’t show.

‘What makes you think that? Listen to this bit.’ Rochester-san’s finger traced the outline of a phrase recurring just where it was least expected and most satisfactory. It was clear that he felt such music as if it was something that had been taken away from him and given back too late. He was sadder than it was.

‘Many Japanese men I know in the financial sector are saying that the American market is overstretched and must collapse very soon now. The British market also.’

‘You see what I mean? You’re telling me. And I should be telling you. I’m a thousand years older than you are and this is my country but you own more of it than I do. You lot even invented the machine this beautiful music’s coming out of.’

‘Not really.’ Suzuki was very proud of his ‘not really’. The ‘l’ was almost liquid.

‘Course it is. National Panasonic. That’s one of yours, isn’t it?’

‘Yes. A part of the Matsushita group. But Matsushita-sensei did not invent these machines. He perfected their use. Your video machine is in the VHS format, for example. Matsushita-sensei decided to prefer VHS above the Beta format. Sony had made the Betamax give the best pictures quality ...’

‘Picture quality.’

‘Picture quality. Thank you. But Mr Matsushita said that the VHS was to be the favourite because it needed less maint ... to maintain less.’

‘Less maintenance.’

‘Less maintenance. He was ninety-three years old when he made the decision. The Sony corporation did everything they could to talk him out of it. But he insisted that the customers came first.’

‘You see? I never knew any of that. God, it’s so shaming, being so bloody useless. Don’t leave me alone. You always get up and go. Stay here tonight.’

Suzuki thought seriously of doing so. Rochester-san was plainly incapable and even if he had not been would probably have been less trouble than the regrettable entanglement waiting in Suzuki’s little room. But Suzuki could not contemplate a new day without a clean shirt. To buy one would cost him almost as much as the taxi he would have to get unless he hurried for the last tube. In these circumstances he could not let Rochester-san pay for a taxi. He caught the train with seconds to spare. Sitting ankle-deep in litter as the primitive device rattled and banged through its hole, he was overcome with Rochester-san’s sadness as if it were his own. He remembered what Hamlet said while holding in his hand the skull of Yorrick. ‘Alas,’ Suzuki quoted to himself, moving the tip of his tongue silently but correctly. Polonius hides behind the arras but Hamlet says alas. The two words sound different. Silently Suzuki practised. The point was not likely to come up in conversation, but you never knew.