I have been touched recently by the good wishes for my
retirement and concerns for my health so I thought I should
write to tell you that I am neither retired nor dead but in
robust health and very happy to be working.
I no longer spend August in Edinburgh doing one or two shows a
day during the fringe but I am not retired. I’m busy doing
other things elsewhere.
After I wrote the last newsletter I was supposed to set off
for Rome on my scooter – a Honda Forza 300cc called
Well, I didn’t go. I booked the scooter on the ferry, marked
up the map with my stopping points, programmed the sat nav,
then went to the doctor to get a month’s supply of medicine.
She gave me a quick check up and didn’t like the look of
something. Possible melanoma. Another doctor, then a skin
specialist, then minor surgery, then a six week wait for the
result of the biopsy. By the time I got the result that there
was no problem the wind had gone out of my sails.
However, during the month I was neither in Italy or Edinburgh
I discovered my garden. I spent August digging and cutting and
I now have a market garden which provides me with courgettes,
potatoes and beans, a greenhouse full of tomatoes, peppers and
aubergines, and a cold frame with enough chillies to fuel a
rocket to the moon.
In March 2018 I became a grandfather and have all the joy of
looking after the most beautiful, innocent, happy child. She’s
the apple of her parents’ eye and the jewel in my crown. I’m
70 and she’s 1 so robust health has become even more important
Busy gardening and grandfathering and not showing up at the
Edinburgh festival I suppose I might appear to be somewhat
I rehearsed a new version of ‘Did You used to be R.D.Laing?’
with a new pianist, Alan Benzie and we took it on the road to
village halls in Aberdeenshire. Colin Steele and I took ‘A
Funny Valentine’ to a cabaret in Strasbourg. ‘R.D.Laing’ and
‘Funny Valentine’ are both available for touring throughout
2020 and I’m working on the diary now.
I’m writing a fictional biography of William Hildebrand who
was Mahler’s (fictional) gofer and chauffeur (Mahler didn’t
have one!) and who became Leonard Bernstein’s gofer and
chauffeur (Bernstein did have one but his name wasn’t William)
The action takes place between 1900 and William’s death in
A lot of my writing over the years has been carefully
researched. The joy of fiction is making it up instead of
looking it up. Alma Mahler’s biographers will be astonished to
discover what William discovered as he chauffeured her around.
My flights of fancy treat Alma rather better than do her
If the story of William Hildebrand, 1882 – 1965, who looked
after Gustav Mahler and then Leonard Bernstein, ever gets made
into a film the music will, of course, be fantastic!
Oh, and the ride to Rome on a scooter called ‘Modestine’ –
that’s still to happen. This year I was all set to leave for
Rome when my brother fell seriously ill. I spent most of
August at his bedside. But next year I’ll do it, I really
will, and then I’ll write it up and make another book.
This next book will be an account of a scooter ride to Rome
following the route of my first scooter ride to Rome in 2009
which I did as a fund-raising effort to raise money for cancer
research. I never kept a diary on that first ride so in order
to write about it I’ll do it all over again – this time with a
notebook and pencil. My second trip to Rome will revisit the
first, stopping at the same places and sleeping under the
stars, just like the first time when it never rained – not a
single drop. (I should be so lucky next time!) I’d like to
write a book that starts with the diagnosis of my cancer in
June 2008 and ends with my arrival in Rome on a scooter just
over a year and two operations later – a story with an upward
trajectory don’t you think? I have been living in the land of
the healthy ever since.
In 2020 there are plans to tour ‘Did You Used to be
R.D.Laing?’ in Scotland and ‘A Funny Valentine’ (the Chet
Baker Story with Colin Steele on trumpet) at the Cambridge
Jazz Festival and other venues in England. I hope to see you