"The Days of Our Vanity: A Memoir"
by Richard Leigh Harris
James Honeybone writes:
This is a friendly 296 page chat with Richard Leigh Harris about his first 50 years. It's delightfully informal. Full of humorous touches. And fascinating.
He's a serious musician, but at the beginning of Section 40 he advises 'If you are not a musician, you might wish to skip this section and go and make a cup of tea, or pour a glass of wine or a beer.' It's six pages which you will in fact want to read to help you understand him.
The dedication page has this observation from Samuel Johnson: 'I have often thought that there has rarely passed a life of which a judicious and faithful narrative would not be useful.' Naturally therefore he has gone to great pains to keep his narrative both judicious and faithful. His mistakes - particularly his attempt at Comprehensive School teaching - are excruciatingly analysed. His character defects, as he would have you accept them, are laid out very clearly. He attacks his detractors with delicious venom. He takes no prisoners. Don't, I advise, don't buy this book if you got on the wrong side of him. It's all there.
Harris's sense of humour is always at the ready and so not surprisingly Mark Twain's 'When I was younger I could remember everything - whether it had happened or not' gets a look in. You may not like - or even understand - all his jokes, but they keep his narrative moving happily along.
One of his many occupations during his time in Oxford was a fourteen-year stint as a music critic for the weekly-published Oxford Times. It's particularly agreeable to find him saying 'However bad the performance under review, I always tried to be constructive and to point out a glimmer of talent, however faint.'
He doesn't fly now after that particularly nasty descent into Venice - but his holidays in Wales, Ireland and Scotland are sensitively detailed. His companion on these trips, Mary, who plays such a large part in his life, was clearly an amazing woman. Her death from a dreadful cancer makes distressing reading. He admits how incredibly fortunate he has been to find and marry Carol.
Index? Why not? Would have been very helpful. Memoirs have need of them.
There are only six pages of black and white photographs, but they are beautifully chosen and are all that's needed to give us an idea of the key players.
This is a five-star performance - like many of his appearances at the harpsichord and piano in Oxford's Holywell Music Room. He has clearly immensely enjoyed writing it: your chat with him, if mine was anything to go by, will be equally rewarding.
James Honeybone; 14th April 2013.