The hottest property in the sixties was Jaqueline Du Pre. Well, the hottest property in the world of classical music that is. Up to then, soloists were generally wrapped in the blanket of tradition and conformity. They would perform with the face of smugness born from a lifetime of adoration and sycophancy.
Jaqueline was a cellist. After the emergence of Paul Tortelier as a soloist of flair and flamboyance, Du Pre brought a refreshing wave of youthful intensity. She was young , attractive and gifted.
Along with her new husband, Daniel Barenboim she represented a new generation of dynamic performers ready to engage the young and smash the stoic grey sheen surrounding post-war classical music. She had enough competition. The Beatles were reaching incredible new heights in the world of popular music. There had also been a steady rise in easy listening. There was Mantovani, Manuel and his music of the mountains and Semprini. They were already icons of the middle of the road crew.
As a teenager learning the cello I couldn’t get enough of her. I scoured the radio and television listings hoping for a Du Pre fix. Then there was the shocking news; Jaqueline Du Pre could no longer play the cello. After a lifetime with the instrument she loved, she was no longer able to play it. It was the first time I’d heard of Multiple Sclerosis. On the radio, there were brief descriptions of what the illness did to people.
I took note. It sounded awful. You could think it but you couldn’t do it. It gave you disobedient lazy limbs. Why couldn’t they just do as they were told? I looked at my fingers. I moved them about in a sort of playing an instrument fashion. It was inconceivable. They were my bits. They did as I asked.
Jaqueline Du Pre died in 1987. By that time, I had seen some signs. The first signs were gentle if rather puzzling. On a few occasions in the very early eighties, I noticed my tingling legs. It was nothing and I joked with myself that it was the first signs of Multiple Sclerosis. That is no joke. I distinctly remember walking home after a Sunday night at the King’s Arms in Seacombe. It was early spring and mild. I wore a reversible jacket with Lee jeans and Levi boots.
It went through my mind. But I was still playing tennis and cycling everywhere. Then in May of 1983, a lot of my left-hand side felt numb and tingly. It didn’t last but my first reaction was to exercise more. I thought it was something to do with my over-indulgence. After all, I’d bought a car so I was less active. Then there was an incident in 1986. I was in Leicester for a football match. I’d had a skinful at lunch-time and I don’t really remember the game. What I do remember is feeling myself collapse and planting my chin into the bottom of a lamp-post. Ouch!
The following year, I had developed a funny sort of spasm down my right-hand side. “It doesn’t make sense,” was the total sum of my GPs analysis. And there ends the first part of my journey into the abyss. Thank-you for reading.