Wednesday, August 17, 2016


I`m a self-confessed devotee of Classic FM.  It`s relaxing stuff - just what I need on a car journey and the other afternoon I heard a piece of music that sent my mind whirling off on a series of weird connections.

About 70 years ago, my parents struggling with post-war austerity, they nevertheless found the money for me to have a little pocket money (six old pennies, I think) and also a weekly `comic.`  The one I had was the Rover, full of adventure stories of derring-do, which opened my imagination and improved my reading.  

And it had adverts for all kinds of boyish things, one of which was for postage stamps - Stanley Gibbons and all that.  You could send away for a packet of stamps - `on approval` - and I began to get interested.  I would save up and send off a postal order for 1/6 and a few days later a packet would arrive, containing a selection of stamps from all parts of the world.  The ones that always intrigued me were those from Tannu Tuva.  They were spectacular, all different colours and shapes -square, oblong, triangular - and they depicted life in what seemed to be a far away mysterious land.  So I got interested in Tannu Tuva.

I thought it was just me, but fast forward to the early 1990s and I came across a book, "Tuva or Bust"  which recounted the nobel physics laureate Richard Feynman`s quest to visit Tuva, as it was by then called. (It`s now officially Tyva, as part of the Russian Federation.) After years of struggling with Soviet bureaucracy he finally received an invitation to visit Tuva, but sadly died before he could make the journey.  But like me, he was fascinated not only by the stamps but also by the remoteness - the capital, Kyzyl is close to the geographic centre of Asia, so a really long walk to the beach) - the extraordinary language, the throat singing and its general air of mystery.  

And if anything represents the essence of that part of the world, then it must be the piece of music I heard on Classic FM the other afternoon.   Here`s Alexander Borodin`s evocative, haunting `In the Steppes of Central Asia`.......

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