Monday, 24 October 2011

The Piano Tuner

Peter Newham has been tuning our piano ever since we acquired it - is that nearly 30 years ago? Before then even, I had encountered him when he and his wife first came to live here, wanting legal advice. "You are the first person in Cheltenham I met," he told me this morning. Like Somerset Maugham and W.H. Auden, he has one of those faces, which portrays character with no prospect of masking it. It's as if the sensitivity of his ear has transferred itself, Dorian Gray-like, to his visage.

Peter has strong views on planning. "Why can't our planners go and look at the Plaza Major in Salamanca before deciding on a glass and steel look for the new square in North Place?" To my enquiry, whether he's a member of our Civic Society, however, he replies, as I anticipated, "I'm not a joiner."

Our old upright is in the dining-room, the walls of which are now covered with Tetbury Festival photographs: he has stories, of course, about many of the musicians featured in them. But also he is the first person to liken my Douro Valley railway shot to something out of an old movie, and wants to hear the story behind my Gersois tobacco pickers tableau. "The trouble with both my pianos [he has made two] and your photographs, Martin, is that, inexplicably, nobody wants to buy them."

I enquire after his tricky back: he illustrates his clean bill of health since his last visit here with tales of riding horses in Szechuan amongst Buddhist Tibetan nomads and Muslim Hui Chinese.

An hour with Peter does the soul good.

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