Studio Blog May 2023

Meeting John Cage

Studio Blog May 2023

May 7th 2023 - Meeting John Cage (with Egg on their faces) - The story of the meeting of Cage with the Furnivals attests to both John Furnival's international reputation and to his sense of humour. The visit was arranged by dom silvester houédard and was meant to bring together two admirers of the life and music of Erik Satie. Here is how John recounts the visit:

John Cage, sometime in the Nineteen Seventies, walked into our garden at Rooksmoor House one evening and noticed the 'Wood Avens' growing by the gateway. He knew all the common, that is, real names for the plant, starting with the French - 'Benoît des Villes' or 'Herbe de Saint-Benoît" (from which we have derived 'Herb Bennet' and 'Blessed Herb'),; the came: 'Colewort', 'Ram's Foot' and 'Yellow Strawberry' (from the days when people had to eat anything that they could lay their hands on), and, at last, 'Gold Star'.

"Silver Star', one of the knicknames for dom silvester houédard (dsh), the Benedictine monk frm Prinknash Abbey neasr Gloucester (who had brought John Cage to see us), wondered why the plant was named after Saint Benedict, and John Cage wondered why the Romans called it 'Gerum Urbanum', as it will grow anywhere, not just in towns.

Neither of these questions resolved, we all made our way into the kitchen, first having bought a bottle of cheap red wine from the 'Olde Fleece Inn' next door.

The conversation was dominated by Bruce, a Glaswegian who was the Abbey's cook, who doubled as chauffeur, and was willing to offer an opinion on any subject under the sun, especially on those, such as music, about which he seemed to know more or less nothing. John Cage was very amused by Bruce and fascinated by his accent, which was almost inpenetrable, the occasional word surfacing, gasping for air, and the disappearing again into the deep, but nevertheless offering us a clue as to what the hell he was talking about.

The conversation, if such it could be called, somehow got around to the subjects of ghosts. Now, Rooksmoor House is supposed to be hauntede, and several overnight guests in the past reported being aware of the 'presence' during the night. Rooksmoor House is an L-shaped old house, and Graham, our neighbour who had the older of the two wings, and, an accountant, was as straight as a die, maintained that he had seen a lady in a Victorian gown pass through our connecting wall one winter's evening - the wall, of course, had been subject to many alterations over the years, and doorways blocked off.

Eventually, we decided to hold a séance to see if we could clarify the matter. Participating in anything to do with spiritualism is strictly against the rules of the Order of St. Benedict, but this did not seem to worry dsh unduly, so we settled down to the sort of séance where the alphabet is arranged in a circle, with an upside down pint glass in the centre, upon which everybody places a finger.

Bruce was the Master of Ceremonies, naturally, and, asking if there was anybody there, immediately got an answer from Eve, our daughter, who was fast asleep upstairs. Eve was at that age (about eleven) when she was both a horse and its rider simultaneously, and spent most of her waking hours jumping over a beautiful series of obstacles she had constructed on the grass in front of the house, with a rope bit across her mouth (giving herself some nasty sore extensions to the corners of her mouth), and shouting to herself to "come on, damn you, come on!"

Bruce asked the spirit of Eve whether there was anything she wanted, and the spirit instantly answered "Yes, a horse!" Bruce said that he would see what he could do, and Eve's spirit, spelling out "Thank you!", signed off, not having had, apparently, the slightest problem with Bruce's Glaswegian accent.

After a while, with many an "Is there anyone there?", we finally got in touch with an Apache Chief, "Little Big Something or Other", who also had no problem with Bruce's Glaswegian accent. Bruce asked Little Big Something or Other if there were any ghosts at Rooksmoor House, and the Chief spelled out - "Yes - seven! Ladies keeping an eye on the house" (this took quite a while to spell out). After more questioning, it transpired that they were all previous mistresses of the house, and were just benevolently keeping an eye on things; so, presumably will Astrid one of these days.

The Apache Chief then seemed to have to go celestial buffalo-hunting, or something, and we lost contact, the beer glass remaining obstinately static, looking as if it was dying to be filled with a pint of Guiness, which, alas, we could not provide.

So from matters spiritual, via the Cosmic Egg, which Bruce the Buddhist knew all about, we moved on to things physical, with particular reference to the enormous structural strength of the common, non-cosmic, hen's egg, which, squeezed in a certain direction, it is impossible to break.

To prove the point, we gave John Cage an egg, and asked him to sqeeze it as hard as he could. Enen though by this time John Cage had rather badly arthritic hands, he could still exert a considerable force with them. Unfortunately, we had got the direction wrong, and, instead of vertically, which it should have been, we told him to sqeeze the egg horizontally, and, after a few second's delay, there was a very silent explosion, and the egg distingrated with great energy, and covered us all, especially John Cage with egg-yolk. It was a large egg, and there was a lot of yolk.

We managed to persuade John Cage that he had not been set up - after all, we all had egg on our faces. Cage was a Goof Egg, and, driven by Glasweegian Bruce, went back to Prinknash Abbey in a very good humour.



Both John Cage and John Furnival believe that, to understand properly the history of modern music, appreciation of the life and music of Erik Satie is indispensable.




John Cage is truly knowledgeable about plants, particularly fungi. He won the equivalent of the 64,000 Dollar Question on Italian TV answering questions on mushrooms.




dsh prefered to be known as silvester and not sylvester, although he was diplomatic enough not to correct those who used the 'y' form.






As far as I could ascertain from John Furnival, Bruce was not wearing a string vest!






None of the Furnivals ever saw a ghost at Rooksmoor House. I've seen two ghosts, one on the old road from Bristol to Weston-Super-Mere when I screamed at my cousin who mwas driving that he was going to hit a man and his dog on a narrow humped-back bridge. "So you saw that", said my cousin, "They were killed her over twenty years ago!"





I have an aversion to using the ouija board. As a student I refused to join my fellow flatmates who were summoning up spirits. I sat in an armchair in a corner of the room, reading. One of the ouija playser shouted to me that there was some spirit who wanted to talk to me. They wspelled out his name W-I-L-L-I-A-M  A-S-H-F-O-R-D... there was no way they could have known the name of my maternal grandfather!





Truly, Eve was obsessed with horses.

















John Furnival is being very diplomatic here (or perhaps he just changed the story to assuage his guilt). John and Astrid (and others present at the séance) have attested that it was John Furnival who pressed the egg while it hovered over the head of John Cage. All agreed, however, that John Cage was highly amused at the outcome! A similar outcome happened when one of my university student collegues did precisely the same thing over the head of the most attractive female student in our class.... Unlike John Cage, she was NOT AMUSED!


Moral.... Don't try this at home, and especially if you fancy the victim!