Reflections Upon Saturday Breakfast At Quarr Abbey - 2021


It has come to light that the extent of one's piety or asceticism has no bearing on whether one can slice a loaf of bread: the unholy trapezia summoned at breakfast each morning attest to this. Indeed at breakfast this Saturday morning I briefly suspected Buster Keaton (it would have to be a silent director – this is a monastery) were behind the lens as a comedy of manners verging on slapstick unfolded, where only the keen-eyed anthropologist failed to behave like a nerve-pricked man-baby as the butter dish was awkwardly passed; monk-made conserve splashed around, with my own toast prematurely-ejected from the toaster to make way for the father-son duo to outdo each other in terms of bread-carbonising doing-does-it hands-on application. They appear to be here for a Patris/Filius bonding enterprise, which in their case is probably indeed best done in silence given they appear to hate each other. Tardily, the brigadier-general stalked in, yapping giddily in a fine baritone; merrily oblivious, with his bellicose, Wagnerian Tourettes.. Only Andrew was in absentia, the toothless madman who at seventy-one firmly subscribes to a premonition gifted him years ago that he will become US president at eighty-five. Frankly he'd be one of the saner ones and he firmly gets my vote. Yesterday he said to me “I keep thinking you're a pop star.” to which I responded “I'd be a terrible pop star.” Father Guestmaster chimed in that they'd had one already. A pop star or a terrible one? He was of course referring to Scott Walker, who fled here at the peak of the Walkers Brothers' fame in 1965 to study Gregorian chant and get away from the throngs of wailing hormones that would routinely capsize the Walkers' tour-bus. But then I got to thinking – actually Scott Walker was a terrible pop star. He hated it. He suffered appalling stage-fright, was lugubrious-incarnate in interviews and upon being given creative carte-blanche immediately starting crooning about fat, self-pitying prostitutes while setting Bergman scenarios to Morricone-esque cine-symphonies. That's before we even get to Adolf Eichmann or the meat-punching. He was the finest terrible pop star that ever lived.


I'm learning with deeply-gratifying surprise my capacity for stillness in a tumult. With eating historically being a social ritual it shouldn't be shocking that these well-raised sexagenarians struggle to know where to anchor their eyes or hands during silent prandials. But by god it's funny to watch. My attitude is to behave like you're in a Robert Wilson production, exaggerating one's stillness towards the theatrically statuesque. Upon doing it's as though over a period of minutes one can detect concentric circles of energy extending out from your core, rendering you impervious to the clattery chaos of nervous English people short-ciruiting with crockery missiles in their fat white hands. This is a new super-skill gleaned from both the enhanced serenity of my softly transcendent experience here at Quarr, and through no shortage of post-traumatic hypervigilance over the last ten deadeningly cacophonous years in that tatty seaside town.


Two more days at Quarr, which I intend to richly fill with an absolute and beautiful nothing. Rosemary's bench – she loved it here – has induced hours of rumination in stillness over the last week and I shall return there today. I've noticed that time's passage here is not registered via a visual timepiece, but audially. One could readily dispense with phones and/or watches, as the belfry of the abbey church chimes so-codified as to always know the time if one cares or needs to. My Gregroian chant comprehension continues to sharpen – I'm now starting to follow the melisma as denoted on the score lines by stacked noteheads (which are square) – I may even compose a piece using this notation at some point.


Anyway, to my bench. To Rosemary and to Scott. And indeed, Scott's song Rosemary is typically exquisite. “Wake up Rosemary, and wipe your teary eyes.”


August 14th 2021.

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