Moondog by Chris Green
All Airbnb hosts have different ideas about promoting their space and a different interpretation of hospitality. Emphasis might be on the style of the rooms, the location of the property or even the size of the breakfast they offer. Each let has a different vibe about it, dependent to some extent on the owners’ personalities. The top-floor apartment in the Somerset village is one of a succession of lets Birgit and I have taken in order to explore southern England.
Perhaps we ought to take a closer look at reviews before we book but even then you can never rely on the accuracy of the comments. Suffice to say, ahead of our visit, we are not sure what might await us as the only photo of the accommodation on the site is the lovely view from the window. It is clear though from the off that Ray and Susan’s let is going to be more quirky than the others.
Birgit is on a dairy-free diet and has stopped off at the farm shop down the road from the accommodation to buy some fresh fruit and soya milk. They have left the key under a ceramic pot for us so I let myself in. Ray hears me and comes to greet me. He is a tall man in his mid-fifties with a receding hairline. He is wearing a floral waistcoat and has a silver tenor saxophone around his neck which strikes me as a little unusual.
‘I hope you like Moondog,’ he says.
I am not sure who or what he is referring to but to be polite, I answer, yes, of course.
‘Good,’ Ray says, and we leave it at that. As we make our way upstairs, he starts talking about trees. Do I think the shellbark hickory requires clay or loam soil, he wonders? I shrug. I do not know much about trees. He tells me you can eat the nuts of the shellbark hickory. I make an encouraging remark about the Picasso-patterned stair carpet. Susan is nowhere in evidence.
As I walk into the apartment, the first thing that hits me is that the walls are painted bright red and decorated with a collection of Abstract Expressionist paintings by New York artists. Pollock, De Kooning, Yamamoto, Rothko. Not originals of course but nonetheless, in the context of rural Somerset, dramatic and unexpected. Perhaps I do not register any surprise but if I do, Ray certainly doesn’t appear to notice it.
‘I’ll leave you to it,’ he says dismissively and with this, he is gone.
Birgit arrives with her provisions and I let her in. We laugh a little about how odd the flat is. The multicoloured tiled floor, for instance, is on several levels like a series of steps, something to be aware of in the night perhaps. However, it is not the accommodation that we came for. We do not plan on being indoors much during our stay. It is June and after all, we are only here for one night. We are moving on to Dawlish in the morning to explore Devon.
Once Birgit has changed outfits a few times, we take advantage of the warm evening sunshine and go for a drive in the beautiful Somerset countryside. Although it is reputed to be flat as a pancake, we manage to find some hills and fine hills they are. The Quantocks. We stop off for a bite to eat and a drink at a pub in Dunster and arrive back at about ten.
The cat that is slinking about the front garden looks to me like an ocelot, but surely it can’t be. Perhaps it is an overfed Bengal or something. In any case, there is no-one around to ask. There is no sign of our hosts. We get ourselves settled and potter around making more remarks about the unusual layout of the apartment. In our kitchenette, I look for glasses for our nightcap. I find the Warhol print cupboard is packed with Brillo pads. Boxes on boxes of them. Eventually, I find two orange Penguin book-cover cups, both of them novels by Clifford Font.
At first, I think it is the knocking of old-fashioned plumbing that wakes me. Then I realise the rhythmic drumming sound is interspersed with snatches of violin and oboe. Birgit is awake so I ask her. She says she can’t hear anything.
‘It must be in your head,’ she says.
‘But it’s really loud,’ I say. ‘How can you not hear it?’
‘There’s nothing,’ she says ‘Go back to sleep.’
The sound continues. This is not the saxophone but Ray might play any number of other instruments. But surely not all at the same time. And there’s definitely a lot going on here. Some strange minor chords on the piano. Lots of percussion. Bells, voices. It’s strangely hypnotic. Isn’t that a foghorn? Might this perhaps be the mysterious Moondog, whoever or whatever Moondog is?
When Birgit drops off, I key in a search on the tablet. I discover Moondog was a blind American composer, street musician, poet, theoretician and inventor who from the late 1940s lived and worked for thirty years in Manhattan. He recorded dozens of albums, all of them difficult to categorise. Amongst his friends in the music world were Philip Glass, Leonard Bernstein, John Coltrane and Charlie Parker. Moondog was heavily into Nordic mythology and built an altar to Thor in his country home in New York State. His long white beard and long white hair gave him a distinctive appearance, along with the Viking cloak and horned helmet he wore to protect his head because his blindness meant that he kept walking into things. He moved to Germany in 1974, where he claimed to have been in spiritual communication with Beethoven.
My curiosity raised to stratospheric levels, I creep downstairs to see where the weird music is coming from. I suppose I’m expecting to find Ray slumped in a chair in some kind of comatose state listening to it on his Bang and Olufsen hi-fi. Perhaps he has old Moondog LPs on vinyl. Surprisingly, no-one seems to be around. I cannot make out the source of the music now. Suddenly, I notice it is quiet. There is no music. ……… It occurs to me that Birgit could have been right. Maybe there never was any music. It might just have been in my head. But, if this is the case then I must be losing my marbles.
I spend a fitful night, dreaming of moons and dogs but at seven thirty, Birgit is up and ready to go. She says she is ravenous. I tell her I’m not sure that Ray and Susan are up. She says she is certain she heard someone moving about downstairs so we make our way down to the breakfast room. It is Susan who greets us. Long red hair and long red Bohemian dress aside, Susan’s appearance is surprisingly conventional.
The breakfast room has half a dozen bright paintings on the wall. David Hockney in style I feel although Birgit thinks they are more Matisse than Hockney. We cannot make out the signature on any of them. I ask Susan. She tells us they are her work. I congratulate her and tell her I like them a lot.
‘Very different from the Abstract Expressionist works upstairs though,’ I say. ‘I expect those are Ray’s choice.’
‘Don’t you like them?’ Susan says.
‘I love them,’ I say.
‘Anyway, I adore them too. I like all styles,’ she says. ‘I chose all the works in the house. Ray doesn’t care much about art.’
With a view to perhaps mentioning the strange sounds I heard in the night, I tentatively ask Susan where Ray is.’
‘Ray is in New York,’ she says. ‘He went last Thursday. He’s at a Moondog Appreciation event. Then he’s going to look at trees. Apparently, they have a lot of woodland in New York State. He says he will be back next week.’
Over breakfast, I scan the reviews for our Dawlish accommodation. One guest mentions that she feels the place might be haunted. I’m not sure I like the thought of that.
© Chris Green 2018: All rights reserved