Every Saturday at quarter past five Hilda pulled the curtains of the sitting room and sat down, stiff gin and tonic in hand, to watch the opening credits of Doctor Who. As that unearthly wail and unmistakeable electronic beat filled the room, everything stopped at Coptic Street. Elsa and Evelyn tiptoed around the flat. If they had anything to say to Hilda, it waited until the time of contemplation had passed.
As the title card appeared onscreen Hilda sighed a sigh of deep satisfaction and leaned forward out of her armchair to switch off the small black-and-white television.
"Musique concrete!" she remarked to the listening walls in tones of hearty admiration. "On the tellie!"
And she took a celebratory swig of G&T.
For years Hilda had resisted the blandishments of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, upstarts as they were. Not for her a sense of solidarity with fellow toilers in the vineyards of sound. It was all very well, she would say disdainfully, to attempt to popularize electronic music. Her own musique concrete reinforcee, even with its deceptively tuneful repetitions, could hardly be used for station idents or educational documentaries.
(At least no one had ever asked her to write something for such a purpose.)
So she had argued until the summer of 1962, when a workshop at Dartington had drawn her into the orbit of Delia Derbyshire, a young (and rather pretty) devotee of loops and tape splicing. Though the guest of honour at the workshop had been Luciano Berio, and Delia merely his beautiful assistant, the two women had spent hours strolling in the grounds of the hall and talking of the potentials of the new medium.
(One of them had been talking, that is. The other had been listening.)
Upon returning to London, Hilda had thrown out a half-finished conventional choral work for seventeen castrati and rededicated herself to the genre of musique concrete reinforcee. In the years since then her recording equipment had outgrown its little studio on the third floor at Coptic Street and moved to new digs in a mews in Chelsea. Hilda would spend hours industriously tracking down recordings of warthogs gathered around waterholes and then playing them in reverse at three-quarter speed. Trendy young people strolled past outside and the scent of marijuana smoke drifted up to Hilda as the sound of genius at work drifted down to the masses below.
All in all Hilda was eminently satisfied that she remained firmly at the avant of the avant-garde. But it was not easy. Not at all.
Even the indefatigable Evelyn was beginning to look less than youthful. Not that his dress sense had ever acknowledged the fact. In the ten years that he had been working as Hilda's private secretary and copyist--a position straight out of Cambridge that all concerned had been expecting him to hold for no more than six months--he had gone from jeans and black turtlenecks to the narrow ties and narrow lapels of a Mod. Hilda was not sure which was worse.
As he bustled into the sitting room that Saturday evening he was whistling a tune that had most decidedly not been composed by the Radiophonic Workshop.
"Evelyn," said Hilda suddenly, "what are young people thinking?"
"I wouldn't knoooooow." The final word was drawn out in a manner suggestive of great tragedy. "I turned thirty last year."
"Stuff and nonsense," said Hilda encouragingly.
"I wish you'd tell that to the boys at the club."
Evelyn wafted about the room, straightening doilies that had never really gone astray and ignoring altogether the cobwebs at the corners of the twelve-foot ceilings. Hilda raised her empty glass in his direction.
After Evelyn refreshed her glass with copious gin and a splash of tonic, Hilda reclined into her chair and switched on the wireless. She frowned. It was Radio London--just where her favorite and most atmospheric patch of static on the dial had used to be located. And Radio London was playing the same little pop number that Evelyn had been humming.
"And that's a classic already, that one," said the DJ. It was Kenny Everett. "The Beatles, Fixing a Hole. Let's hope they managed it. Now, don't touch that dial..."
A cacophony of recorded noise announced the next feature. Hilda's frown grew deeper. Everyone was using tape loops nowadays.
Hilda looked at Evelyn.
"Don't look at me," said Evelyn. "I've only met him the once. And it's not as if we were properly introduced..."
"And where was that, m'boy?"
Hilda slid her gold-rimmed reading glasses down her nose and managed a really piercing gaze.
"The Ad Lav," muttered Evelyn.
But Hilda didn't hear. The excessive volume of her musique concrete reinforcee had rendered her, with the advancing years, more than a little deaf.
"I do try to move with the times," she said plaintively, "but the times never seem to meet me halfway."
Evelyn patted her reassuringly on the hand.
"Don't you worry, mistress mine," he started to say. "You..."
He was interrupted by the slam of the front door downstairs.
"Hello!" came Elsa's piercing soprano voice. "Just in time for a little drink!"
She came into the room laden with shopping bags and kissed Evelyn on both cheeks before sinking onto the settee next to Hilda. Kicking her shoes off, she reached for Hilda's gin and tonic.
"Found some splendid material today," she remarked after downing half the remainder.
"Mmm?" said Hilda.
In recent years Elsa, wanting to save wear on her voice, had taken distinctly fewer singing engagements. She claimed to be writing her memoirs but seemed to be doing most of the research at Harrods.
"It would make the most lovely dress. Or possibly upholstery. I haven't decided."
"Mmm," said Hilda in a different but equally uninterested tone. "Oh! That reminds me. You must come into the studio. I need you to gargle for me."
"But anyone could gargle," said Elsa disdainfully. Wagner it was not. "You could gargle. Evelyn could gargle."
Evelyn shrugged. Hilda ignored the implied slight.
"But no one else could make the bubbling so regular!" she said.
"I couldn't possibly," said Elsa.
"You simply must!"
Elsa weakened. "No more than fifteen minutes, mind you," she replied. "Extended techniques are hard on the voice."
"I shall be a perfect angel."
Evelyn, dusting bookshelves in the corner, emitted a quiet guffaw.
"Speaking of composition, Tabby, when are you going to pick up your Proust again?"
It had been Hilda's lifelong ambition to turn the whole of La recherche a temps perdu into an opera. It had been Elsa's ambition to play Mme Vinteuil. Or Albertine. Or perhaps both at once. For ten years now Hilda's compositional draft had been stranded halfway through Swann's Way, exactly seven pages short of the place where her bookmark was permanently lodged in the book.
Hilda waved a hand. Her drink sloshed. "Conventional opera is dead, m'dear. Has been since... well, since I stopped writing them."
"Ben doesn't think so."
"Ben." Another dismissive wave. Another, more serious, slosh. "Ben stole his last opera. From the Japanese. And couldn't even be bothered to change the lead into a chap! Heaven save us from Peter Pears in a frock. It's a wonder there wasn't a stampede in the theatre."
"I would have taken the part," said Elsa. "He need only have asked..."
"Piffle," said Hilda.
"Dinner," said Evelyn.
Elsa beamed. She took Evelyn's arm and allowed him to lead her into the dining room. Hilda followed in her own time.
After dinner they were back in the sitting room, reading through the magazines that Elsa had bought during her shopping expedition. Elsa had Tatler; Evelyn had Queen. Hilda had the Musical Times, which she carefully annotated with marginal exclamation points and indignant crossings-out, all done in indelible fountain pen.
(Her collection of back issues was stored in boxes in the loft, waiting for the archive that would accept this priceless testament to the intellectual development of a leading composeress. No offers yet.)
They were a companionable party, with three bars on the gas fire and a decanter of port to pass around. It was rumoured that Evelyn had a flat of his own somewhere in the vicinity of the Burlington Arcade but no one had ever seen it, and he had decorated the Coptic Street guest room so thoroughly that no other guest would dare to pass its impeccably colour-coordinated threshold.
"Do you remember dear little Miles?" said Evelyn, looking up from Queen.
"Miles?" said Hilda.
"Miles," he confirmed, holding a page of the magazine up for inspection. "Benjie's little friend."
It was a full page movie advert showing a very handsome, very blond young man with tousled hair and intense eyes. He wore a pair of tight blue jeans, a movie camera around his neck, and nothing else. Zoom, said the headline. With Miles Timmins.
"Oh my," said Hilda. She looked away and obliterated a page of the Musical Times with one decisive stroke of her fountain pen. "Pity he's wasting his time with all that movies tosh."
"Perhaps he's lost his voice," said Elsa.
"Did he ever have a voice?" said Hilda.
"I wonder if he remembers me?" said Evelyn, looking hopefully at the picture. "Even a little bit?"
No one present seemed to know the answer. Drooping slightly, Evelyn went back to his reading. For quite some time there was blessed silence.
"I must reduce," said Elsa finally, apropos of nothing.
"Reduce what?" said Hilda.
"My figure, of course," Elsa replied. She brandished her magazine. "Figures have gone out of fashion."
"Maria Callas, you know," added Evelyn helpfully.
Hilda looked horrified. Her reading glasses dropped off the end of her nose.
"Don't talk to me about Maria Callas," she declared. "Your figure, Elsa, is perennial."
"Would that it were."
Hilda snatched the magazine from her muse's grasp. It was a full-page spread, showing a very young, very thin girl in a miniskirt. Her insubstantial arms were spread wide and her eyes so heavily mascaraed that they appeared to be blackened.
"She looks as though she went through puberty at an angle!" Hilda exclaimed. "If she managed to go through it at all."
Now it was Evelyn's turn to be horrified. "But that's Pattie Boyd," he said.
"And who's she when she's at home?"
"No one of importance," said Evelyn, subsiding in the wake of Hilda's indignation.
"Isn't she?" fluttered Elsa.
"Well then," said Hilda.
She harrumphed once, then returned to editing the Musical Times.
Coptic Street was waking up. Tour buses craftily disgorged their passengers just around the corner from Museum Street and, underneath the excited chatter, one could almost hear the clicking of camera shutters. From the Greek restaurant below the flat there was the rattling of pans and a certain amount of preparatory shouting.
In their own kitchen there was not any pan-rattling at all. Evelyn carefully added a pot of plum preserves to the little constellation of condiments already on the table, then took a seat with an expression of satisfaction. Elsa, swathed in a big dressing down with fur at the collar, pulled the plum preserves closer to her plate. Evelyn frowned.
"So," said Hilda, energetically munching on a piece of toast, "what have we got in the diary today?"
"Tabby, you sound like my old headmistress."
"Well?" persisted Hilda.
"I'll just fry up a few sausages," said Evelyn. "Having a sausage or two inside you makes the world feel so much kinder."
"Oh do," said Elsa.
"Well?" said Hilda for the third time.
Elsa sighed dramatically. "If you must know, Tabby, I have a photo session for the cover of your 'Celebration of Sappho' album. Which I expect I shall endure somehow. Diaphanous draperies are simply not as flattering on me as they once were."
"Nonsense. Of course they are."
Hilda gave her partner a lingering look and a sly pinch under the breakfast table. Elsa, reassured, went placidly back to layering plum preserves onto her toast.
"You should get David Bailey to do the shoot," said Evelyn from the cooker. "Everyone is always saying how 'fab' he is."
"David Bailey?" said Elsa.
"What does it say about the cultural life of this country," asked Hilda rhetorically, "that it now seems to revolve around children of whom one has never heard?"
"Never heard of David Bailey? The fashion photographer? He's famous. You know the rhyme? David Bailey makes love daily."
Hilda scoffed. "So do I, m'boy, come to that. So do I."
Elsa smiled dreamily at the plum preserves and rubbed her cheek against her fur collar.
"I wish I did," said Evelyn.
He brought the plate of sausages over to the table, where Elsa set upon them without hesitation. Hilda had turned her attention to the Times.
"Do you?" she said vaguely.
"I was supposed to be seeing Cream at the Savile tonight. Or possibly Fairport Convention, it was so loud in the club that I couldn't quite make out the boy who asked me. And I haven't been able to raise him on the telephone and all I can see in the listings is 'The Fog Machine: Music of the Mind with Yoko Ono.' As seen at the Fringe...
"I don't know about you," he sniffed, "but I don't call that fame."
Hilda sat bolt upright. "Yoko Ono?"
"Yes...?" said Evelyn warily.
"The Yoko Ono? Yoko Ono of Fluxus? She who singlehandedly created the Downtown music scene? She who runs the most brilliant, groundbreaking avant-garde salon in all of New York? She who puts John Cage and La Monte Young into the shade?"
"(I would have a salon m'self, y'know, if there were anyone I thought it worth inviting.)"
"I'm sure you would, dearest," said Elsa.
Hilda regained her train of thought.
"I must see her!" she declared. "Elsa, put down that sausage at once! Cancel your photo session! Evelyn is taking us to the Savile Theatre!"
It was hardly their usual evening excursion. They turned up at the Savile in full evening dress (even Evelyn, who was well trained) to find a half-empty house filled with scattered young Londoners whose own dress was considerably less formal. A faint smell of cannabis hung in the plush splendor of the hall.
"One half expects to find them selling candy floss in the foyer," said Elsa with a lift of her chin as she swept in her fur wrap past one particularly bohemian young person of indeterminate gender.
"The younger generation..." said Evelyn.
Together they seated themselves in an appreciative phalanx right at the front of the theatre. Elsa polished her opera glasses on her sleeve. Hilda opened the programme. Evelyn looked around to see whether anyone he recognized was in attendance.
"Just think of it!" said Hilda. "Music of the mind!"
"What does that mean anyway?" said Elsa.
"My dear girl, I haven't the slightest!"
When the curtain rose it revealed a Japanese woman, her face white with powder and her hair pulled carefully back in a bun, kneeling impassively on the stage. She wore a severe, long-sleeved black dress. A large pair of scissors lay by her knees. Members of the audience, the programme announced, are invited to come forward and cut off a portion of Yoko Ono's clothes.
"Cut piece," said Hilda appreciatively.
"Oh my," said Evelyn as the first sleeve went. "And it looks an expensive frock too."
"Poor dear," said Elsa as the collar followed.
Yoko folded her arms across her bosom and gazed steadily ahead. No matter how much fabric had gone, there was always another member of the audience ready to pick up the scissors.
"Now that's what I call art," Hilda heartlessly declared. "None of that namby-pamby pussyfooting around the issue. Pass me the opera glasses, Elsa, if you're not going to use them."
"I can't look," said Elsa, and didn't. She held the opera glasses out at full length.
In all the commotion after the end of the performance, the party made their way to the exit through the drifting aftereffects of the fog machine with a music of unearthly wails still echoing in their ears.
"Do you know," Evelyn was saying, "in the Gents, at the interval, they were showing a Yoko Ono film. It was of bottoms!"
"What were they doing?" asked Hilda with interest.
"Nothing at all. Just bottoms. I was so transfixed that I forgot I wanted to have a wee."
At the back of the theatre stood an expensively-dressed young man. Forehead furrowed with worry, he was delicately biting his nails.
"It doesn't look as though he enjoyed it," commented Elsa.
"That's Brian Epstein!" said Evelyn but no one paid any attention.
"Ruddy great art," said Hilda. "Can't see how they got it past the censors. One in the eye for the Lord Chamberlain."
"Certainly one in my eye," said Evelyn.
"Poor girl," said Elsa.
"Oh, she knows just what she's doing. Mark my words. Mark my words." And Hilda tapped the side of her nose significantly.
"And just what is she doing?" said Evelyn.
"Art," Hilda repeated firmly. "Ruddy great art."
"Art?" said Elsa on an upward glissando.
"It isn't art if it doesn't get someone hot and bothered. Stands to reason."
"Does it?" said Elsa.
"If you ever ask me to do that onstage, Tabby," Elsa declared with a note of finality, "I shall go back to Vienna."
How Hilda had first got wind of the party, no one was sure.
"It's Paul McCartney's birthday," she declared from the back of the taxi as they turned onto Charing Cross Road. "Just drop us at Leicester Square."
"I didn't even realise she knew who Paul McCartney was," said Evelyn to Elsa in an undertone.
"Can't get in to Leicester Square," said the driver. "It's all closed off. Here all right?"
Unceremoniously, they were dropped just outside Leicester Square tube station just as it began to drizzle. Hilda was undaunted.
"It'll be jolly grand," she said as they crossed the street. "Gear and fab and whatever it is the young folk say. And best of all... Yoko will be there." Her voice dropped to a reverent undertone on the last phrase.
"And do you have an invitation for this party?" asked Elsa. "Because I certainly don't remember getting one in the post."
Hilda waved a dismissive hand. "They wouldn't dare keep me out."
From the scene that greeted them as they entered the square, it seemed that most of London was living in hope. The place was thronged with teenagers longing to catch a glimpse of their favorite pop idols, along with policemen struggling to keep them all in order. Flashbulbs were popping. One young devotee had sat down on the kerb, head in hands, to weep.
Naturally the Coptic Street set pushed their way forward right to the entrance. They had done their utmost to fit in. Evelyn was decked out in all the psychedelic tailoring that Carnaby Street could offer. Elsa wore a flowing paisley caftan that might have been a snug fit on Mama Cass but which was of a size to appear capacious on anyone else--including, amazingly, Elsa. And while Hilda traditionally made few concessions to the whims of fashion, she had selected a rather fetching purple bow tie for the evening.
"Don't you know who I am?" she said to the man at the door of the club. "I'm Dame Hilda Tablet and this is a ruddy disgrace."
"You're not on the guest list, madam," he replied implacably.
"Ruddy disgrace," repeated Hilda.
They might have stood there in stalemate for the rest of the evening had not a stylish young woman appeared at Hilda's side. She wore an orange Mary Quant dress and her hair was in a sleek bob that looked straight from the studio of Vidal Sassoon.
"What ho, Hilda," she said. "Fancy meeting you here."
"Delia!" Hilda exclaimed. "Just the woman I wanted to see. Won't you tell this chap here that we're perfectly respectable guests and that we promise not to get stinking drunk and smash the place up?"
Delia Derbyshire laughed and took a swig from a hip flask. "I don't know that I have an invitation myself. Not in so many words. Paul just told me to turn up..."
"You see?" said Hilda.
"She really is Dame Hilda Tablet," Delia explained earnestly. "Eminent twelve-tone composeress."
"Oh, go on," said the man at the door, losing patience. "In."
Hilda followed Delia; Elsa followed Hilda. Evelyn began to follow Elsa but was stopped short by the doorman's arm.
"But I'm with them," Evelyn protested.
"If you knew how many times I've heard that tonight..."
Inside, the small club was utterly thronged. One could tell that it was an Artistic event from the haze of cannabis smoke that hung in the air. The Beatles' 'Tomorrow Never Knows' was playing very loudly.
Hilda sniffed suspiciously. "Second-rate Stockhausen," she declared, even more loudly. "And Stockhausen was second-rate to begin with."
"What brings you here anyway?" asked Delia.
Hilda tapped the side of her nose. "Reconnaissance."
"Say no more," replied Delia. She took another swig from her hip flask and then shook it suspiciously. "I say, shall I get us something to drink?"
"I thought you'd never ask," said Hilda.
Delia disappeared into the crowd in search of liquid refreshment, leaving Hilda and Elsa alone. They were a small island in a sea of revelers younger than them by a few decades. Elsa edged closer to her partner until they were bumping shoulders.
"Are you quite sure this is our sort of party?" she asked anxiously.
Hilda laughed her gusty laugh. "Not at all! But there's a G&T arriving with my name on it, and I don't ask more than that... Oh look, there's dear little Miles!"
It was indeed Miles Timmins, lounging on a banquette at the edge of the club. Three young girls in miniscule skirts shared the banquette with him, and somehow he had managed to fit all three of them into the compass of his arms. Perhaps it was because they were so slender. Or because he was. His shirt was half-unbuttoned, his hair dramatically tousled, and he looked every inch the movie star.
Miles raised one hand from a girlfriend's bare shoulder and wiggled his fingers in their direction. He winked broadly. "Hilda, old girl! And Elsa!"
Elsa waved back and then giggled girlishly.
After a moment of thought, Miles broke into a cartoonish falsetto: "Mrs Lucas, there's a letter for you!"
It had been his one line as a soprano messenger boy in Hilda's opera Lucia and Mapp. His nearest girlfriend looked startled, crossing her lengthy teal-clad legs in such a way as to suggest that she had never been aware of this side of his character.
Hilda beamed. "You've passed the audition!" she shouted through cupped hands.
Miles bowed. He raised a champagne bottle to her and took a swig straight from the bottle before returned his attention to his lady friends. Boy soprano no longer, Miles Timmins was living life to the full.
Hilda put her arm around Elsa's waist.
"Oh, Hilda, don't."
"And why shouldn't I, eh?" Hilda squeezed a little tighter. "Miles is."
"You're not Miles," said Elsa coquettishly.
"I'm much better."
"Ben wouldn't say so."
"I dare say he would now," said Hilda.
"I should like to see his face," said Elsa.
"Poor Benjie. Best not to disillusion him... but, Elsa, where has my drinkie gone?"
Together they gazed into the ever-thickening crowd, surveying a scene that contained many joints and precious few G&Ts. Hilda sighed longingly.
Although the first familiar face to meet her eye was not Delia's, Hilda still greeted the newcomer heartily.
"Ray Cathode, old cock!" she exclaimed. "Fancy meeting you in this den of thieves!"
George Martin bowed slightly from the waist. "My Radiophonic days are long behind me, Hilda."
"More's the pity."
"I wouldn't say that."
"I would," said Hilda. (Yellow Submarine was now playing.)
"What brings you here anyway, Hilda? This isn't what one might call your scene."
"Yoko Ono," intoned Hilda in the manner of a priestess beginning a mysterious and sacred rite.
"Yoko?" echoed George in puzzlement.
"Isn't she here?"
"I'm sure she is. She's been at every Abbey Road studio date this month."
Hilda turned to her partner. "D'you hear that? They've stolen a march on me, Elsa!"
"I very much doubt that they have," said George. "Whatever march that is."
"Progress, old cock, progress!"
"I shouldn't worry, Hilda. No one else marches to your drummer."
No one could have mistaken the expression of pleasure on Hilda's face. It was only intensified by the return of Delia Derbyshire with two double gin and tonics. She handed one to Hilda and kept one for herself.
"Don't say I never do anything for you, Hilda."
"I never do." Hilda accepted the profferred drink gingerly, so as not to spill a drop. "Even though there's so much more that you could do for me…"
"Hilda," said Elsa chidingly.
But Delia was not bothered. In fact she hardly seemed to be paying attention. She turned in a slow circle, admiring the scene.
"What a swell party this is," she said.
Several hours later it was still a swell party, though A Day in the Life, currently on its third rotation, had been played three times too many to suit Hilda's tastes.
Hilda had not been idle. She had given Jimi Hendrix advice on producing electronic feedback, chatted with Kenneth Williams about holidaying in Morocco, and rather heedlessly promised to compose a musical of "Raffles" with a starring role for Miles Timmins. She could have gone on all night. She had not had so much fun since her brief stint as an air raid warden during the war.
("All those sirens and explosions, d'you see?" she explained to Dusty Springfield.)
And yet it might be said that the party itself was beginning to flag. George Martin had gone long ago. Pattie Boyd was fast asleep on the shoulder of a bearded man who was not her husband. Miles Timmins was lying passed out under a table along with one--or possibly two--of his lady friends from earlier. Elsa had declared that she could not possibly eat another canape… and meant it. Things were drawing to an inevitable conclusion.
By the time Hilda finally spotted Yoko in the thinning crowds, she had consumed several more G&Ts and passed from mildly tipsy to distinctly the worse for wear. Never one to let a little thing like that dissuade her, she weaved in a circuitous but purposeful line towards her unsuspecting quarry.
"Been looking all over for you," she announced upon arrival. "Yoko Ono. That's the one. All over."
Yoko looked sceptically up at Hilda through the narrow parting in her long hair.
"And you are?" Her voice was small but it conveyed a full sense of her own importance.
"Dame Hilda Tablet at your service," boomed Hilda. "Won't introduce myself. Superflous. Have a proposition for you."
"Yes?" said Yoko.
"You need a collaborator."
Hilda paused for the self-evident brilliance of the idea to sink in. It manifestly failed to do so. Yoko took an expectant drag from her cigarette.
"M'self, that is," Hilda continued. "If I do say so… well, m'self. Dame Hilda is your man. Er, girl."
"But I have a collaborator already. John Lennon is my collaborator."
"Stuff and nonsense," said Hilda, waving the statement away. "What you need is someone who knows music. Architectonics. Musique concrete reenforcee. Static. Any fool composer can fill the Albert Hall…"
"With holes?" interrupted Yoko, a smile tugging at her lips.
"With people," said Hilda impatiently. "But th' thing is, see, takes real talent to empty it again. Get the buggers to run without causing a stampede. In under fifteen minutes! That's art. My art, to be precise."
Cocking her head to one side, Yoko looked almost intrigued.
"John and I are very interested in working for peace. Are you interested in peace?"
"Very! M'very peaceful. Never once been in a punch-up at a performance. (Except for that one time at the Coliseum but there were circumstances, m'dear, circumstances.)"
"I'm sure there were," said Yoko politely.
"Not but what cannon firing doesn't add a certain something to a piece, Tchaikovsky wasn't entirely a fool, but I think you'll find that in my pieces, the cannon are strictly optional."
Yoko gave an approving nod. "John and I are planning a bed-in for peace. 'Bed peace,' we'll call it. We think the world would be a better place if everyone would go to bed instead of fighting."
"Bed piece, eh?" said Hilda gamely. "Just like cut piece? Jolly good. You'll need a soundtrack of course. Bloody useless without a soundtrack."
"I had never thought of having one," said Yoko.
Hilda's creative mind was now engaged and rapidly running through possibilities. "Something along the lines of Penderecki's Threnody. Only less tuneful. It's about Hiroshima, y'know."
"I do know."
"Oh! Of course, you would, wouldn't you? Come from that part of the world, don't you? Jolly silly of me."
Generously, Yoko ignored the fact that Hilda was digging herself still deeper.
"The piece," she said, "would have to remain focused on the bed."
"Naturally, naturally. I could conduct from bed. Done it before. Get all my great ideas there. Elsa is very inspirational..."
Her rhapsodizing was interrupted when a familiar Liverpudlian voice rang out across the emptying room:
"Come on, Yoko, the car's waiting."
John Lennon wandered over and put his arm around Yoko's shoulder. He peered nearsightedly at Hilda through his granny glasses. "And who are you, then?"
"Could ask you the same question," Hilda retorted.
He broke into laughter. "I suppose you could."
Yoko proffered a business card. "I have a show at the Indica Gallery," she said. "Mason's Yard, off Duke Street."
"About breathing, isn't it?" said Hilda. "Always been terribly in favor of breathing."
"Come and see me there. We can talk. I like the way you think."
"That makes two of us," said Hilda, beaming.
And with a bow she left John and Yoko to go on their way.
As it happened, Hilda was not invited to provide the soundtrack for John and Yoko's honeymoon. But she bore them no ill will.
A few months later she was standing in the middle of Shaftesbury Avenue. Bus drivers swerved to avoid her. Hands on hips, she admired the bold legend that had just gone up on the marquee of the Savile Theatre:
MUSIC OF THE MIND
YOKO ONO, DELIA DERBYSHIRE, AND DAME HILDA TABLET
WITH SPECIAL GUEST IVRY GITLIS
Hilda gave a nod of satisfaction before stepping backwards into the path of an oncoming moped. It veered briefly onto the pavement before speeding off with a curse from its amphetamine-fueled driver.
"Jolly good decade," Hilda declared. "Jolly good decade. Think I've finally got the hang of the sixties after all."