My stepfather is one of the few people I know who still says "pi-ah-no". I expect there are more of you out there, but drug up as I was in the wilds of Scotland, if I had added "pi-ah-no" to my pronunciatory infelicities, my dead body would probably have been discovered in some dour and dreary dyke, a frightful warning to the Sassenach to encroach no further.
"Pi-ah-no" aside, I have just bought my stepfather for Christmas a recording of Bach's English Suites played by Angela Hewitt. Now I will wait to see whether he will be pleased with the recording, or if he will consider Hewitt – a limpid and lucid interpreter of our greatest composer, I aver – too Canadian for the English Suites, in which case I sincerely hope he will return them to me (where they will remain) with a demand for the composer and recording he would prefer. Since he trained as a pianist, I find it hard to choose for him.
In a perfect world, I would first buy him something better on which to listen than the Walkman and mini-speakers which live by his chair. Perhaps for his birthday I could embark on such a fearful quest, one which would meet with much resistance and protest about unnecessary extravagance. I should seek a system which is small and unassuming in appearance, yet with excellent sound reproduction – not Bose, which even he is bound to have seen advertised, and to have realised that, where no price is published, it must be exorbitant. Were I to find such a system, my mother could then inherit the Walkman, in order to listen to Maggie May in the kitchen, something I know she would welcome.
It can be difficult for our generation of conspicuous consumers to offer small creature comforts to the older one. If my mother knew my annual book budget (and no, I don't either) she would probably be shocked to her core. On the other hand, it's considerably less than my annual mother-budget which, on the whole, she doesn't notice. "Had you thought what you might buy me for Christmas?" she enquired on Sunday. "Well, sort of," I replied, suppressing the thought of the fairly hefty sum I'd put in her bank account to pay for her – much needed – new camera, and thinking instead of the rather beautiful pale green wallet in softest nappa leather which I had just finished wrapping. "But you've got a birthday coming up immediately afterwards. What would you like?"
Can anyone recommend a really good coffee-table book on cave painting?