DAVID WEST OF SHERINGHAM

AUTOBIOGRAPHY 20

SHERINGHAM  High St, circa 1965

SHERINGHAM High St, circa 1965

David West was my piano teacher. I was not a good pianist; there is no doubt I would never have been a good pianist, although I might have been better if I had practised more. I got as far as grade 5 but was scratched at the last minute from taking my practical exam because I would have failed. But I was good at theory, passing my exam with 100 per cent.

David was a member of the Sheringham fishing family. Downtide West is a name that springs to the lips. Another was Joyful West – the epithets were an essential part of their names because both were in the lifeboat crew in the 1960s and both were called Henry. David however had no nickname as far as I am aware, but I may just be ignorant. David West had a connection with shellfish that I will mention later on, but his main activity was playing music. Perhaps his main instrument was the cornet, and when I remember him he was the conductor of the Sheringham Salvation Army band (besides being fishermen the Wests were also all staunch Salvationists). He was an excellent pianist as well, having been trained by Miss Phillips.

Miss Phillips was still teaching the piano at my school during my time, and taught my friend Bill Wragge. Bill was a much better pianist than I was but no better at practising; he was very good at playing by ear and would launch into flights of fantasy, only loosely based on the music before him. He can still play medleys of Gilbert and Sullivan tunes for instance without any music at all. As for actually reading the notes he was meant to play however he was quite frankly incapable of doing this, a fact that drove poor Miss Phillips to distraction. The amber pendant which she always wore would heave on her ample bosom as she remonstrated with her wayward pupil.

To return to David West; my first contact with him involved neither crabs nor cornets nor even the piano, for he was also an accomplished magician and a member of the Magic Circle. When I was still in Crossways he gave a show in the dining hall at Kenwyn to the whole junior school with all sorts of tricks. One of the most memorable was playing music on a Theremin. I doubt you have ever heard of a Theremin, but it is an early electronic instrument invented by a Russian (Professor Léon Theremin) in 1928. You produce the sounds by waving your hands about with no physical contact with the instrument, which is simply a plain box. It is very good at doing glissandi  and produces a weird atmospheric sound, very effective for science fiction film score. It was amazingly magical to 10-year-old. David West was also very good at more conventional tricks too. He would break off my piano lessons to demonstrate some musical device. Once he placed two soft balls under each of my hands while reciting some musical fact. When he had finished he asked me to reveal what lay under my hands, and when I did so both balls were under one hand! This delighted and puzzled me and still does, half a century later. Needless to say I have utterly forgotten the musical point behind the trick.

I should say that at the time I did not have him as a teacher; I was still trying to learn the violin which I was taught by Mr Gould, the leader of the Norwich Philharmonic Orchestra. At that stage I think I was being taught as one of a group of six; I never got beyond the first position on the fingerboard. It was a long time before I eventually found my instrument was the double bass, and on that I could play in any position you could name!

David West’s venture into the fishing business occurred in the early 1970s, well after I had left school. He set up a small factory in an old building in Sheringham selling potted crab paste. If a modern jar of crab paste contains as much as 30% crab meat you are doing well; the bulk of what you are buying is starch. West’s crab paste was 100% crab meat and made a superb tea time treat on hot toast. I called on him one day- he would have been somewhere near the West family’s tea shop – and he conducted me on tour of the factory and ended it by giving me a box of jars of his paste. Incidentally another of his activities was taping light piano music for playing to the customers as they sat drinking their afternoon tea.

I don’t think I saw Mr West again for about 40 years by which time he was quite an old man – too many birthdays, he said. He was still in the family shop which had moved from Sheringham to Alby, a few miles inland. It was no longer a tea room and the crab meat business had long since folded, squeezed out by the likes of the Cromer Crab Company which has also recently been closed. Although it now concentrates on selling caravans the Alby enterprise was mainly a boat selling business run by other members of the family including I believe his sons, but it also has a section selling musical instruments which of course was his department. Amazingly Mr West remembered me and even that my father was an optician in the City.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE

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One response

  1. From much maligned Bill. You missed Miss Phillips adding verisimiltude to the press buton bells the church.

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