Saturday, 20 February 2016

Please review the book

Thank you to everyone who has read this blog and been encouraged to buy the book. If you have read and enjoyed the book, please could I ask you to write a review on Amazon and/or on You don't have to write much, just a brief appreciation of the book, and a rating of one to five stars.

Of course, in the interests of balance I should mention that you can also write a review if you didn't enjoy the book - but I hope there will be fewer of these!

Thank you.

In the fen country

The Leys School is an independent school in Cambridge, founded in the 19th century by the Methodist Church. Its grounds are extensive and its red-brick buildings are handsome. It has an air of being a safe haven of learning, an atmosphere it shares with the colleges of the University. Notable alumni include the author J G Ballard, the journalist Martin Bell, tennis star Jamie Murray and assorted members of the Tongan royal family. Another former pupil was the author James Hilton, whose book Goodbye Mr Chips was made into a film starring Peter O'Toole. It tells the story of a teacher at an independent school in the Fens, presumably based on the Leys.

The Leys School, Cambridge
From 1953 to 1980 the music master at the Leys School was Kenneth Naylor. Naylor was born in Sunderland but educated in Bath at Kingswood School, before going on to read music at Magdalene College, Cambridge. He was the composer of a number of works, but for our purposes the most significant of these is the hymn-tune COE FEN. This may not be quite as well known as some of the other tunes that have been featured in this blog, but if you are familiar with it I'm sure you'll agree it is a superb melody.

COE FEN is usually sung to How shall I sing that majesty? - a hymn by the 17th century writer John Mason. The words are as superb as the tune to which they are sung: vivid poetic images written with economy and balance, with such memorable phrases as 'I shall, I fear, be dark and cold, with all my fire and light' and 'thou art a sea without a shore, a sun without a sphere'. It is the perfect marriage of music and text.

The Fens are an area of marshy green land in East Anglia. In and around Cambridge several areas of open green land are named fens. The one after which Naylor named his tune, Coe Fen, is right next to the Leys School. The River Cam flows through it, and on warmer days people glide down the river on punts, mysteriously standing on what is patently the bows of the boat and pushing it backwards with a long pole. (I went to another, slightly older university, where punts go fowards.)

Dormant punts in winter on the Cam, Coe Fen, Cambridge
Bridge over the Cam, Coe Fen
After leaving the Leys School Naylor taught at Christ's Hospital in Sussex. It therefore seems appropriate to include a link to a performance of the hymn recorded at Christ's Hospital.