Fifty: A Trifle

By Richard Goodwin

Most of you here tonight will recognize me as Richard Goodwin. If I am not entirely myself, or if I look out of sorts, that's because today is the day, tonight is the night, that everything changes for good.

Ordinarily, on an ordinary day, on an ordinary night, I would not have written my little talk tonight. My thoughts would have taken flight untethered to these notes. I would have soared like a bird and you would have soared with me. I know that you will indulge me none the less. I am not tired. I am just a little wary of this untrammeled ground.

I know that you will identify me as Richard because I am him and because you always do, but also because I am very persuasive. Many of you here tonight will have had your ears reshaped through my ingenuity, through my dogged perseverance. You know that to succumb is the only release.

I wanted to say something tonight that was more than wry humour at my expense; more than reflections on my capacity for love and loyalty to family and friends although that in itself is worthy of some reflection. I wanted to leave a mark because, well, I am afraid to say that that is my usual inclination. More than all of that however, if there can be more than that, I wanted to say something that would leave no room for any of my relations to speak, because that would have been too embarrassing to deal with.

The thing about a speech such as mine tonight is, well, it's too tempting to revert to humour, so I am compelled to resist holding your attention like that. Fifty is not so calamitous however as to warrant a minute's silence, although my blacker side might have been sorely tempted. It's a party after all. Parties in our culture require us to be levitous, outrageous, debauched, frivolous. Illuminations are inconceivable on a dark night. Also a speech is not a sermon; I am neither dead, nor being married.

I might have dug a hole, as I am sometimes inclined to do, through which I could fall or crawl or disappear. But no. That would have been an untidy reference to my professional work.

So I am left standing here with half a sandwich. Caught between the rock of the morning and the hard place of the afternoon; the sun beating down on my head. The uncertainty of my youth now is well locked away in the certainty of the past. My seniority stretches uneasily in a milky wasteland.

As artists, we are compelled to believe, for one reason or another that we can bring about some change into the world. We are compelled to find the world a troubled place which, through our efforts is improved; we believe that art can cure an endemic unhappiness.

We seek not to reinvent the wheel but to stop it momentarily, to apprehend it. Time is a wall. My speech is a picture there, a rubber stamp for the occasion lest it roll by, unaccounted. My speech is an anchor. You can cast it out to catch your breath.

If you were to close your eyes If you could shut out the distractions of the moment You would hear a horse making its way along the road. It’s dark and yes, there is a mist lying low across the valley. We can see a rider there, a shadow coming forward, And we strain to make out features to strip the mystery.

The horse has a labored breath; The journey has been long. The rider hums a tune, tuneful but low and slow. We can hear the rustle of leather still And chain or coin accompanies the song.

The horse is black. The rider is dressed in black. Only the horse’s misty breath stands out against the night. He comes slower as we watch And then he is standing there, And in our face he seems still far away.

He draws a chart from his saddle bag. Our lanterns light it up. He points to where he’s been. The towns, the rivers crossed, He takes a pen to underline his point. We all sit down. It is light enough to see his face to See the lanterns dancing in his eyes.

Happy birthday, Richard

Michael Snape