Josna Rege

3. The Horn Player in the Cupboard

In 1970s, Britain, Stories on February 28, 2010 at 7:49 am

When Andrew and I went to London in the autumn of ’73, we were trying to get as far away as possible from the U.S.A. But things—and people—have a way of following you, and so it was with us. On the very plane trip over, Andrew thought he spotted a man from my class at university, and sure enough, it was he. (Soon afterwards, we were to run into him again, at the very first party we were invited to in London.) We rented a room in a run-down house in Tufnell Park and soon learned that not only was one of our housemates American, but that she was from Brookline, and lived not a block from my parents on Harvard Street. We didn’t hold her origins against her, of course, and apart from the rotting pheasants she hung in the upstairs landing and the apple chutney she made that exploded through the dirty jamjars she had salvaged from skips, she was a very good roommate.

One day our Brookline High School classmate Conrad Bergschneider showed up at our door. Somehow he had found out that we were in London and had tracked us down. He was looking for a place to stay and  ended up staying with us, in a former closet that Nick, our housemate-landlord, called a bedroom. The trouble was that not only did the closet lack an electrical outlet, so one couldn’t see in it at night, but its dimensions were barely four feet by six feet and Conrad was a giant of a man, much taller than it  was long. He had to sleep with the door ajar and his feet sticking out.

It soon turned out that Conrad played the French horn. He used to practice in his closet. Muffled blasts buffeted the closed door and shook the creaky old plaster-and-wallpaper walls. And inside Conrad had to bend his head and back over his instrument, his elbows held as close to his sides as he could manage, trying to be considerate. He was a gentle soul. He never complained, but began to spend more and more of his time in our room, gradually unfolding as he emerged from the closet until he finally reached his full size.

Tell Me Another (Contents to Date)

Chronological Table of Contents

  1. […] The Horn Player in the Cupboard […]


  2. Those were the days :)) big hugs xxxxx


    • Yes, cussin, they sure were! I remember dear Aunty Angy coming to that squalid flat–the previous inhabitants of our room had painted the walls black–and bringing sheets and pots & pans for us. It was one of those buildings where you had to put shillings in the meter for hot water and gas. Baths would routinely run cold partway through. We didn’t have a toaster and people didn’t have money to spend on the gas cooker, so the common practice in the kitchen was to toast the bread on the red-hot wire grille of the electric heater. Don’t know what Tufnell Park is like nowadays, but in those days it was pretty run down, whether you walked down towards Kentish Town or over to Holloway Road. (There was a whole street of squats then, which last time I was in London I discovered was super-gentrified. Those (mostly middle-class) squatters must have got Council grants to fix up and buy the buildings and are now sitting pretty on prime Real Estate.) But we walked everywhere and it was an amazing nine months that I will always remember. xxxoo


  3. This one’s Dickensian, Josna – love that he had to “unfold” out of the closet like an accordion. The French Horn itself has a lot to do with the unfurling of high volume sound from its coiled brass conduit


    • See, Urmi, the things that you know. It’s obvious now that you say it, but it somehow never occurred to me that those brass coils amplify the sound as it “unfurls” out of them.
      P.S. Glad you liked it. London was Dickensian that fall of ’73, it strikes me. Perhaps I’ll tell a few more stories about life in that flat.


  4. Love the “gradually unfolding”!


  5. Wonderful tale! What is is about a French horn that always makes a story better? (Maybe I’m just partial, because my dad played one.) Meanwhile…. “rotting pheasants”?! Shudder. Were they taxidermied? Was she doing something with their meat? Or was she just a really, really bad pet owner?


    • Ha! I just slipped in that line about Linda’s exploits, but the story of the pheasants probably deserves more than a sentence. If they had been her pets, she would have been a “really, really bad pet owner”!! But no, she was trying to do something with their meat. You’ve heard of “hanging” pheasants and other game birds until they are “gamey”? That’s what she was attempting to do, but with no prior experience whatsoever.


  6. This one made me laugh out loud! Wonderful story!


  7. The title makes me think of The Indian in the Cupboard…it’s very funny and beautifully written. I love the short style of these stories, and love the title Tell Me Another! PERFECT!!


    • Dear Sally, this is such fun! Thank you for your terrifically encouraging responses. Yes, I was thinking of The Indian in the Cupboard.


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