Pianofortism

2009-08-01 00:00

I WONDER what happened to Otto Krapfhorst? From New Hanover. I dare say old schoolmates from Merchiston will remember him as Meneer Manure, such is the nasty lavatorial humour of small boys, but I remember him as a fellow of most excellent jest from Maritzburg College, a merry smile upon his lips, always seeking a piano on which to play his merry music.

Of course we didn’t have pianos and sissy stuff at College; my sisters at Girls’ High had one on the podium in their main hall and a prefect who was doing sissy music for matric would play a cheerful tune as the pupils drifted in for assembly.

Girls whose birthday it was would have their names read out and everybody would sing to a piano accompaniment Happy Birthday to You, but we would march into the Victoria Hall and a prefect would read The Lord’s Prayer in Latin with a stupid Natal English accent. He didn’t understand a bloody word of what he was reading, of course, and nobody felt improved by it as far as I could see, in fact everybody got more depressed, blood-stained battle flags from Isandlwana hung all about and on a shiny brass plate behind ol’ Froggy Snow the headmaster an inscription explained that this very Victoria Hall had been used for British soldier-boys to survive or die in during the Boer Woer. No piano.

Well we all went our separate ways, as schoolmates do. There was another woer on just then against some Schweinhund with an unBritish moustache and lousy haircut, who hated England nogal, which caused all true-blue red-blooded white Natalians to rush off after matric to find the bastard and kill him.

After matric Otto with family and selected New Hanoverians gathered round a handy piano in the local Bierstube and bust out in jolly song, but his jolly old dad was unwise enough to climb atop this self-same piano when pissed and sing a distasteful song entitled Gott strafe England! which naturally caused the government to drag him off and stick him in an internment camp. Otto unluckily had also turned eighteen that very day, in fact was in the Bierstube to celebrate that event too. Unluckily because, being now officially of military age and, who knows, might go off and join the wrong army, he likewise was dragged off to this camp where he spent the next years practising das Pianofortismus for eight hours a day until he knew every note of every Beethoven sonata off by heart.

Peace again prevailed. Everybody forgave everybody else. All warriors on this side admired all warriors on that.

The king of the British Empire rode round SA in a shiny white train with a shiny blue locomotive, two shiny daughters and a not-so-shiny-any-more queen. They stopped at absolutely every station, and at every station massed school choirs sang songs of welcome and imperial glory.

We ex-warriors of Maritzburg stood to attention outside the city hall and placed our hats over our hearts and shook the King’s hand. The mayor made a speech declaring the Empire would last evermore. Back at the station the assembled schools’ choirs stood to attention on their wooden stands. Centrally stood a piano plus Otto. Potted palms artistically stood outside the toilet entrances. All was ready for fond farewells. The King and Family boarded the Royal Train and stood graciously at the special big open saluting-window, the shiny locomotive sounded its horn, the wheels slowly turned, Otto struck an opening chord and the massed choirs delivered a great crescendo Will ye no come back again....? And it wasn’t until the last coach had disappeared in slow perspective that somebody realised this was the sentimental song of the Stuarts who to this day regard the Windsors as usurpers of the British throne specifically and a bag of shit generally. This song was for Bonny Prince Charlie who fled to France after the Anglo-Saxon frightfulness at Culloden. George VI wasn’t called Our Gracious King for nothing. The fixed smile had not wavered. Why, on one occasion he had met an Afro-US jazzman who thought he was called King as musicians back home were called Duke Ellington, Count Basey, Nat King Cole et cetera. How ya doin’ King? said he. Hey, sharp suit, bro! said he, fingering the lapel of His Majesty’s jacket.

Of course nobody had thought of telling HM about the choir maestro’s years in the internment camp and Otto too had of course forgotten the bitter old days. After the Royal Tour he had genteel visiting cards printed which he would discreetly leave in the letter-boxes of known piano owners in Maritzburg. Edged in gold and bearing the words:

Octavius von Kräpfenhorst

Pianoforte tuning expertly done

Artistically placed top left was the Lion and Unicorn crest of British Royalty.

This wasn’t fraudulent, of course, since he hadn’t placed the words By Appointment underneath, it was just a token of affection, see, I mean he had played his merry music for British Royalty, hadn’t he?

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