Anagram tales 8: Igor Stravinsky
guest post by Nicolas Robertson
For a general introduction to the series, see here.
In this tale (whose title “Gran visits York” is my all-time favourite anagram), yet another numinous cast includes Sir V. Kitson-Gray (Tory), Sir K.Y. Groins-Vat, and Kirsty Garvison—with gin (already a favoured lubricant in Don Giovanni) again playing a role in the arcane plot.
Westminster Cathedral Choir and City of London Sinfonia, directed by James O’Donnell, Westminster Cathedral and St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, June 1990. [Symphony of Psalms, Mass, Canticum Sacrum, Hyperion recording, issued 1991]
Sir V. Kitson-Gray (Tory) asks virgin Ros, stray Viking , “Kiss raving Tory!” Sorry vista. King Gorky I riv’n – TASS. Sir K.Y. Groins-Vat—govt. rank, is Sir Y. (Tory)—asks Irving, Irving K. Tory-Ass, “Try Ivor King, SAS.”
“IRA KY is v. strong. Gorn—visit Krays!”
“O, striving Krays. Krays’ sin v. grot—vs. snaky riot-rig.”
“ ’s Krays givin’ rot. Syrian skirt, gov.”
“Syria, King? OR TVS?”
“Kristy Grinsova rigs Sky TV on air.”
“Sky TV is on air!”
“Grr… origin sky vat. Sky vision? RATS! Gr…”
“Rory v. Stasi, King? Ran Gorky visits…”
“Rory v. giant kiss. Vag ? Rory sinks it. Rory skits Gavin.”
“Sir Gavin Torsky? Try visor, King, as virgins stray, ok?” Ros’ skin—gravity…
* * *
Sat, I vary stork-sign ink. Grass, tor, ivy: strong, ivy, a risk. Roving yaks stir; “V. strong yak, Iris!”
I try saving orks; Gant risks ivory. “Ivory task,” grins ‘Tsar’ Roy, skiving, “or yaks?” Striving Vik’s gyrations risk gravity (Ron’s).
“Sir, Roy, vast king, o risk gravy tins.”
“Rio gravy stinks.”
“Or, is stink gravy? Toss kir in gravy!”
“KIR? Gross vanity!”
“Oy, risk starving! Gravy on sir’s kit!”
“Sir’s kit? Gravy?? NO!!” Raving soy-skirt, striving soy-ark.
“O, KV, SIR, STINGRAY!!!”
V. risky, roasting. 1 risky Strogan’v…
* * *
Ross, varying kit (groin’s kits vary), is raving. Storky NY vigor is stark (NY vigo*r…)
“OK, sis, try!” Raving: “Kris, gravity’s on, or gravity sinks. Toss—KY arriving!”
“Ivor,” sang Kirsty, “Vag—sorry I stink. Vag ri’ stonky, sir!” Stygian risk. Or Viv: “Roy’s rig stank. Rosin (gratis) v. KY?”
Garry: “I stink.” VSO? “Arvo, try kissing Kirsty Garvison, savory skin-grit. O, KV, stringy sari… Kiss or yang—triv Skytrain vigors.*
* ast’risk: Yank visitors, gr…!
* * *
Tony risks Varig. “Varig? stonky, sir.”
“Varig rots in sky—is gory tin ark.” – Gray Visor-Stink. “TGV—air risk.”
‘Sony’ Tanya risks “Rig ‘V’? Rig ‘S’ stank.” Ivory rosary (King T. IV’s), King VI starry, so saving Yorkist.
R. Orr, Stakis vying vs. Rotary skiing: “Skiing ? Sorry, VAT.”
“O, vary ski-string!”
“Tyson v. Rik, Riga?” (Kirov’s Tring, say…) “Ivy’s go-kart, Sir N.?”
Ivan Gorky stirs TV, says “Gin or kir? Gin, Stavros?”
“Kyri’ ? Kvas? o, try gin, sir.”
“Risky, gin, Stavros. KV!”
I tarry, I snog, vary kiss—Girton, King’s or Varsity?
“Kiri’ ’av try snogs, roving Starsky, in ‘Savitri’.”
Gorky’s GI star, I. Vronsky.
Sky ‘Ring’ vista – or –
Gran, sky visitor:
“Igor’s art’s v. inky…”
Hampstead Garden Suburb / Westminster, June 1990,
with acknowledgments to Charles Pott (the title!), Adrian Peacock and other colleagues.
And now the story …
Researching into what had passed for British Foreign Office strategy towards the end of the cold war, I came across a curious transcript of a meeting between a number of high-up government officers and a hypothetical field agent. The curiosity is that the account is by the agent himself, a certain Ivor King of the elite forces:
I was waiting outside the chief’s door, as he’d told me I might be wanted. I couldn’t help hearing what was being said inside, it sounded as if Sir Viv (the chief—not the West Indian cricket giant!) was chaffing Rosamund, his offbeat Scandinavian-looking secretary, suggesting she betray the one of them she thought most bonkers with a kiss. I know this is the sort of thing that goes on, but —looking through the spyhole in the door—it made a sad sight.
Down to business. They know, from official media, that the Tsar is in two minds. How to take advantage of this? The powers-that-be decide to ask—me! I entered, feigning surprise.
I was greeted by a challenge: “The Provos are too slippery. Can we suggest you pay a little visit to the Kray brothers?”
“In my view, the Krays are trying too hard,” I responded. “Their trouble is they play dirty, and that doesn’t work against the Cobra public-order squad.”
“It’s true, they’ve never been much use to us, I wonder if playing on the Damascus elite’s interest in women wouldn’t be more productive?” asks an under-secretary. This seemed to arouse strong feelings among the assembled nobs.
“That Russian girl pretends to be presenting a fake Sky channel.”
“But there already is a real Sky channel—which is quite fake enough.”
“Ha. There’s room for endless pints in the celestial brewery. What do you think Murdoch’s worldview is? That we’re all laboratory animals, that’s what, blast it.”
“You, Ivor—do you reckon we could put our impressionist up against the East German secret police? He was good in that Russian travel programme.”
“He’s a great softy. But if he sees someone he fancies, there’s no stopping him. What’s more, he takes the piss out of the Comptroller.”
“Torsky? oh dear… Well, it’s got to be you,” he said to me bleakly. “Make sure you’ve got your protection, you’re going to have to get close to those people, and you never know, even if they’re nuns.”
I closed the door behind me, and leant my forehead against the heavy wood. I wondered how Ros put up with it, and the memory of the touch of her hand made me feel I was being pulled into a black hole. Ros, forgive me; I make a poor pillager.
* * *
This morning’s job was to repaint the notice warning people not to disturb the storks’ nests. (Duties went in turn in our Tibetan eco-village.) I crouched at the foot of the outcrop the birds had adopted, green with spring herbs, but in danger of being overrun with creepers, which I feared might clamber to the nests . Below me the animals were waking up, beginning to move around; I called down to Iris, “Watch the aurochs! Once they get going, there’s no holding them.”
I’d spent more of my time attempting to care for live wild species, while a colleague (another ex-musician from the UK) concentrated on the more physically dangerous task of protecting woolly mammoth tusks. Our CO used to tease him about this, though he didn’t do anything himself.
Further down the slope an early morning yoga session was in full swing—‘swing’ may not be quite the word, but actually today there appeared to be some unusually hectic movements, as the leader Victoria encouraged Ronald to go a bit too far on the levitation front.
The CO, Roy, was now checking on the catering arrangements. A volunteer chef asked him, with due deference, if he could try out Bisto instant sauce. Roy had seen, though, that the supplies were actually a Brazilian counterfeit, so no—it smelt bad. There seemed to be a spirit of rebellion among the kitchen volunteers, though: “I’m not sure that’s where the smell comes from… Let’s try adding some blackcurrant cordial.”
“Don’t you dare touch my liqueur cabinet! Such impudence!”—I could hear the chaplain had arrived.
“But look, if we don’t make it edible, we’ll have nothing to eat! Oh—sorry, I’ve spilt something on your surplice – ”
”What? My robes? – aargh…”
(Some people worry madly about sauce on their clothes, I thought, others earnestly wish a vegetarian Noah had only saved plants on his ark.)
“Watch out, your worship! A flying manta!”
All good fun, but things were going seriously wrong with the cooking. I rushed down the hill to try to staunch the campfire, where not only something dodgy had got into the stew but the flames looked as if they might get out of control. “Careful with the yurt!”
* * *
Kit had imagined that the worst of her job was looking after the organising of sporting clothing for the Scottish curling team—you wouldn’t believe the details individual players insisted on! But she was up against something much more challenging: passing through US control. First, because the name on the passport wasn’t Kit—as on the ticket—but Christine; and then, as she was accompanying curling equipment, “Go on, explain this to us.”
And when she had tried to, “Excuse me, these things are too heavy to move, they must be meant for something else, unless Newton was wrong. OK, heads or tails, we’re bringing in some glycerine to see if what you’ve said makes any sense.”
In another quarter of JFK airport, Ivor King continues with his ungrateful task. He’s had to apprehend Kirsty, Vivian, Garry and Arvo, all of whom provide crazed personal detail he could have done without—but the letters proved it—of endless connivance between agents. Two items stand out: Viv’s indictment of ‘King’ Roy’s set-up, with its attempted substitution of margarine (bought) for amber (free), and Kirsty—whom we’ve already met, but under another lightly-disguised surname – who may be involved in – please be careful – slightly clad – show you’re a man, lover boy – “oh, it’s just the normal strenuous negotiations for satellite contracts.”
* * *
We had this opening for a concert in Brazil, but someone had to go there to settle it. The question was: which airline? Anthony—we should send the top man—thought we should use the national company, for form’s sake. Not everyone agreed, one aide told him it’s a terrific airline, but a personage on the board reckoned it wasn’t trustworthy, made of cheap metals, and that he should take the train. Tanya, whose internship is sponsored by a Japanese tech firm, wonders about a floating oil platform to take him across the Atlantic, on the reasonable grounds that a different oil platform smelled too bad. We were distracted by a beautiful religious ornament (apparently from King Theodore’s time, but worthy of the best of Henry the Sixth, and which would have proved the legitimacy of Richard III had it been known).
The late composer Robin Orr—joined by a Greek hotelier—interrupts us with a few thoughts on winter sports, and how they should be taxed, especially if they’re organised by Lions Clubs. Several voices are raised, complaining about Prof. Orr’s harping on alpine activities. Would you rather think about a remake of a boxing champion and a comedian in the Baltics? (Ballet Rambert in Danzig, say.)
I wouldn’t mind going there myself, but don’t fancy travelling by dodgem, even if the vehicle’s Ivy’s, and I’m blandished by the address.
* * *
Not quite sure what happened , that day in Mykonos. I was thinking hard about content for our pan-island festival, switching from one music channel to another, and, tiring, asked Stavros if he could lay on a drink. But which one? A cocktail or the thing in itself?
“Sir,” he replied—I wish he wouldn’t do this subservient thing—“how about slivovitz?”. He saw I made a face—“OK, it’s gin.”
“Mind you, I’ve heard that gin is dangerous, Stavros, watch out” (I liked to taunt him).
I can’t make up my mind, but am happy, meanwhile, to kiss the girls around me—who cares which college they come from?
“Sir, you’ve done that, what about putting on an action series, in a Vedic setting?”
I try to reimagine myself as an American soldier adrift but shining in the Russian provinces, a Tolstoy tragic catalyst. Did he understand all that he brought about, or was he a sentimental fool?
The next challenge was going to be the York Festival: TV film of a production in York Minster of the Ring cycle—oh god … could I come up with something else? As often in these straits, I called on my grandmother, by now well ensconced in the heavens, and as if descended from a future time I heard her say:
“You know, in Wagner the notes run all over, filling up space, a great wash—and those colours, well, altogether they make up brown—but Stravinsky, now, he puts notes right there, each one counts for himself, black on white…”
That’s Gran for you. So I went for Igor Stravinsky.
Nicolas Robertson, Outurela, Portugal, May 2021.