Thursday, 26 August 2010

Erik Ballantyne Houston

Erik’s funeral, or memorial service, was yesterday. The last chapter of his novel was read; it’s both a part of the narrative and a dying, in words on a page. It can’t be read without choking. Snow is falling; if I were to come over all literary about this, and having read a few books I can’t not, there’s Joyce’s ‘The Dead’ in there. And Chekhov’s ‘Ward Six’: ‘A herd of deer, extraordinarily beautiful and graceful, of which he had been reading the day before, ran by him; then a peasant woman stretched out her hand to him, with a registered letter . . . Mihail Averyanitch said something to him, then it all vanished.’

Had Erik read Joyce, read Chekhov? I’ve no idea. Very few of his students or professional colleagues, possibly none of them, knew that he was a writer as well as a musician. I hadn’t known myself that he fished, and fished seriously, had won prizes, as well as doing this for the sheer pleasure. There was a man yesterday who had spent a day fishing with him on the River Avon less than a month ago, and who was struggling to understand that there’d be no more fishing days with Erik.

No conclusions from this, no arguments to be made. But I do love this example of a man writing, and writing as a serious (and playful) endeavour, with ambition and continual revision and his whole heart, as a complete aside to his professional career. Erik was a musician. He was a star, and then, ill, he shrugged that off and taught others. He didn’t need to write. Except that he did.

I tried, yesterday, when talking about that last page, to emphasise that much of the book is very funny. Wrong word; I was overbalancing. Erik would have laughed. He was 37. He had found someone he loved, and in that I believe he was happy, and his life was out of all proportion.


Anonymous said...

You are an extraordinary person, Charles, and the world will be a lot poorer for your passing. So, don't.

charles said...

Bloody hell, n. Not going yet. Things to do. - c