Laughter is the best medicine, they say, and how true this is.
I bought my cat, Leo, for my husband, in November 2014, when he was suffering increasingly poor health as his life drew to its close.
When shown photos of several Cornish Rex cats for sale on-line, it was love at first sight when Ian spotted Leo. “That’s the one”, I remember him saying. He knew immediately that Leo was the chosen one, and thus an extraordinary relationship was born, which transformed the last six months of Ian’s life.
My dear husband enjoyed an outstanding career as a sound editor in feature films, working on 84 films, including The Mission, The Rocky Horror Show, Donnie Brascoe and Notting Hill, and winning a BAFTA award for The Killing Fields. He had the most extraordinary, quirky sense of humour, adored silent films, and loved the zany humour of Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. I often felt that life with Ian was like living in a Marx Brothers comedy.
I think this humour was one of the most important features of the relationship between Ian and Leo. Leo is the funniest animal I have ever known, and Ian would just throw back his head and roar with laughter at his absurd antics.
I find that laughter is one of the most valuable tools in learning. It touches our deeper selves, and opens us up in a way that facilitates the absorption of knowledge at a deep level. I specially warm to composers who are possessed of a great sense of humour.
Claude Debussy is a superb example, as I happily discovered when compiling a script on his life and music for actors Robert Powell and Liza Goddard, with music played by flautist Clive Conway and myself.
Humour features throughout, even in the midst of tragedy and hardship. It is through his humour, as well as, of course, his sublime music, that the extraordinary character of Debussy springs to life for us today, a hundred years after his death.
Here is an example. When describing a society lady who insisted on singing his songs, Debussy remarked:
“She sounds like a locomotive in distress, but her buttered scones are marvellous.”
Here is Debussy describing the great pianist, Alfred Cortot, conducting Wagner’s opera, Parsifal:
“He has a lock of hair which moves in sympathy with the music. See how it droops, weary and sad, in the soft passages. Then, see it rear itself proudly for the music’s martial strains. At such moments, M. Cortot lunges at the orchestra, pointing his stick menacingly like the bandilleros when they want to irritate the bull. But the players are as cool as Eskimos — they’ve been through much worse than this. Then the conductor leans affectionately towards the first violins, whispering intimate secrets into their ears. Next he turns on the trombones and galvanises them with a gesture which seems to say “Come on, boys, put some punch into it! See if you can’t manage to be trombones sent from heaven!”
And the obedient trombones conscientiously start swallowing madly down their tubes.
Towards the end of his life, beset by financial difficulties, Debussy was forced to continue touring, even when ill, but, despite his suffering, his sense of humour did not desert him.
He wrote to his wife:
“Vienna is a raddled old city where one suffers an excess of Brahms and Puccini. As for Budapest, the river Danube refuses to be as blue as a certain waltz maintains it is. The Hungarians are all liars, but charming! But I brought back some marvellous chocolates……..”