The StirrerThe Stirrer

news that matters, campaigns that count

for Birmingham, the Black Country and beyond

HOW SIBELIUS MADE MUSIC IN NORTHFIELD

29-03-2007

Fresh from failing a Crimewatch audition as an 80-year old bloke stabbed with a skewer in Walsall, local actor Laurence Inman reflects on the value of an ology. And wonders if Wittgenstein dreamt up some of his best philosophy in Harborne. (Oh, andthere's a pavements update too).

I noticed a long time ago that psychiatrists (famous ones who wrote books, not ones in hospitals who give people pills,) are prone to say things which are the exact opposite of common sense.

For instance, when we bite into a cheese sandwich, we are not savouring a nice bit of cheddar. No, we are really biting into our fathers because they married our mothers, which is what we want to do deep down.

It's a bit like listening to Tone or one of his acolytes insisting that everyone can get access to a NHS dentist.

Sociologists, by way of contrast, always seem to be saying things which have been blindingly obvious since birth. They spend decades on intricate research which proves that children feel pain when they are smacked, or that men who have drunk eighteen pints of Archers will often do or say things which they regret later.

But going back to psychiatrists, there was a very interesting snippet in the papers last week about the Big Daddy of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud.

I'd always thought of him as being a bit severe. It's the glasses, the precisely-cut white beard, the Viennese accent. Surely he spent his life bent over massive tomes in some cavernous Gothic library, or making neat, minutely detailed notes while his patients sobbed out their traumas on his couch ?

Now it turns out that his favourite place in the world was Blackpool.

Yes, Blackpool, our Blackpool, on the Lancashire coast.

Try thinking of him ambling up the front scoffing his whelks and fish and chips. Well, it actually happened. He loved the atmosphere of the place, the tackiness, the beery humour of the English working-class on holiday. What else there is in Blackpool which might interest the man who popularised the idea of the phallic symbol, I can't imagine.

There are a few other unlikely conjunctions of person and place, some of them involving Birmingham.

Did you know, for instance, that the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, another Viennese, author of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and other impenetrable works, had a mate in Harborne ? His name was David Pinsent.

He lived in the Court Oak Road area. I can't be more specific because apparently the house is now derelict and set back from the road anyway, so it would be a waste of time trying to get a blue plaque up. I've tried.

I like to imagine the two of them strolling up to Lightwoods Park, deep in conversation on very abstruse philosophical points. Perhaps it was on one such walk that Ludwig came up with such thoughts as: ‘A sign does not determine a logical form unless it is taken together with its logico-syntactical employment,' or: ‘What can be shown cannot be said.' We will never know.

I've just been reminded that I once sat an exam where one of the questions was this: What is there? I wrote five pages of A4 on that.

Another interesting visitor to Birmingham was Jean Sibelius, the great Finnish composer. Apparently he knew a family in Northfield and would stay there rather than in London whenever he visited England.

Now, I don't want to say anything uncharitable about Northfield because I grew up near there and it was very pleasant. In the sixties. But it is a fact that the word most often associated with it now has four letters, begins with c and ends in v.

I'm sorry, but I'm only repeating what has been said to me: Northfield is the Chav Capital of Britain.

It must have been different in Sibelius' day. They all wore top hats and spats. Everybody had been to Balliol and addressed each other as ‘Sir' or ‘Madam.' Families and friends foregathered in the Bell Hotel for a pre-dinner dry sherry.

Even so, it's a challenge to think what there was in Northfield which could have inspired those icy, still passages in his brilliant symphonies. Perhaps, being far from home, it made him pine for the fjords and feel their presence more keenly. Oh no. that's Norway.

Next week: the T.S.Eliot connection.

Pavements update: A small child disappeared down a pothole while walking along Valentine Road last week, but was hoisted to safety by the local Pavement Rescue Team. Meanwhile, Amesbury Road is having its Art Deco patterned flagstones replaced with synthetic rubber pads. Apparently the residents are finding the stones too hard.

Know of any other West Midlands connections with famous folk? Leave a comment on the Miscellaneous section of our messageboard.

Leave a comment or raise new issues on The Stirrer message board.

©2006 The Stirrer