Month: July 2017

A Violin with Tea and Cake

The free, church summer concerts are on again.  Seems like they only just finished. Time is up to his old tricks again.  I went along last Thursday with my Christian friend.  The performers were a duo; a Japanese violinist accompanied by a pianist with four Masters’ degrees in piano, harpsichord, conducting and composition (four Masters) and a Bachelor’s degree in Physics, which he knocked off whilst finishing the Masters.  The programme began with a violin solo by Bach.

The audience was comprised of the retired and the church going.  I fitted right in, with my white hair and my M&S elasticated slacks (from their Classics section for frumpy old women.)  In fact, at 56, I was alarmed to find how seamlessly I fitted in (mind you I’ve always been middle-aged in my head.)  As the violinist began I adopted a pose which I felt suited the rarefied pursuit of listening to ancient classical music.  I sat bolt upright (this wasn’t difficult in a rock hard wooden pew) my hands clasped together in my lap, my head slightly raised and my eyes closed, as though in rapt concentration.

The first few notes were drawn out and pure, rising up to the church rafters, and then the violin bloke launched into a typically rapid Bachian melody.  I opened my peepers to see that many audience members had adopted my pose of the intelligent, thoughtful person caught up in the dream-like beauty of listening to a bit of Bach.  Closing them again, the violin made a sudden sweeping screech, in which I definitely heard what sounded like a duff note.  This was followed by what seemed to be a run of duff notes.  Now, I’d never heard Bach’s violin music before and immediately surmised that maybe Bach had churned out some pretty crap violin music and that this bloke was merely following a score in which Bach had temporarily lost the plot.  I opened my eyes, to see how other people were reacting to what could only be described as the alarming juxtaposition of watching a semi-professional violinist repeatedly playing the wrong notes – for surely one of the greatest composers who ever lived would not have written something which was beginning to sound like two cats having a fight.

But no, the audience were as one in their rapt attention.  Must be me then, thought I.  The Bach solo finished to polite applause, the kind you get at the more cerebral entertainment venues, along with much appreciative nodding of heads.  The thought crossed my mind that perhaps I’d lost my musical sense and had been hearing ear wincing notes where there were none.

The second piece was another violin solo written by the player himself.  It went by a Japanese title so I have no idea what it was supposed to be about.  But imagine, if you will, the worst school kids’ concert you were ever forced to sit through, where some star kid violinist scratched his/her way through ‘Twinkle, Twinkle little Star,’ whilst its parents looked on in adoration.  You recognised the tune but it’s as though someone put it through a clothes mangler, and it came out all flat (off key) with the life taken out of it.  And so it was with this little self-penned ditty.  The whole thing seemed to be made up of surreal notes from an alternate violin playing universe, finishing so suddenly on an unexpectedly short lived, sort of high  pitched ‘plonk,’  that the audience sat stupefied and forgot to clap.  Ah, maybe I’m not the only one, thought I.

The third piece was an altogether more enjoyable affair as the pianist joined in.  We were on much safer ground here, as he effortlessly bashed the keys in all the right order – those five degrees had not gone to waste.  But even here, the violin occasionally introduced a jarring note into the proceedings, but I was determined to enjoy it and equally determined not to be snobbishly critical.

There was a time, in my younger days, when I would be critical of just about everything.  But oh how I’ve mellowed with age.  Now you can throw anything at me.  You can sing off key.  You can knit the most revolting garment.  You can bake me a rock hard cake.  You can write me emails, or texts, full of spelling and grammar mistakes and I won’t bat a non-critical eyelid.

Afterwards the friend and I ran for our pot of tea and cake, in order to beat the masses close at our heels.  ‘Go grab a table,’ she screamed at me from the counter, and ‘what cake do you want?’  Five minutes later we could be found chatting away in a corner.  Well, my friend chatted whilst I dutifully listened.  There was a time when I used to monopolise conversations but the further mellowing effects of age mean that I’m now a very good listener, even if the eyes do sometimes glass over.

My friend had recently come back from a religious tour of Israel.  At 68 I marvelled at her bravery and keen interest in life.  Of course, the talk was full of her close personal friend Jesus and how she’d visited the lake of Galilee and did you know that you can even hire a boat, which is a replica of the exact one Jesus used when he calmed the storm!  Suppressing some mirth at the idea of all those gullible Christian tourists forking out a few quid to ride on the same boat as Jesus, particularly since the Jews don’t believe he was the Messiah, I ooh’d and aahh’d in all the right places.  My friend had a particularly well-told tale in which she had turned in the boat, to look back at the shore, and could have sworn she saw Jesus sitting there cooking some fish over a fire!  I asked what Jesus looked like in this vision.  ‘You know, how he always looks’ was the reply.  That being the long haired, bearded and very white Western version.  Many years ago I would have pulled her up on this, noting that Jesus was middle eastern and would therefore not have been white, or even had long flowing locks, but my friend was in the midst of holy raptures and not open to rational suggestion.

As we talked, I raised some pertinent questions, whilst stressing that I understood her feelings, and put into words some of the things about her religion that she couldn’t quite explain.  Towards the end of tea and cake she suddenly sat back in her chair with a look of revelation on her face; the sort of look I fancied comes over her when she’s engaged in nightly prayers.

‘Susan! I do love these discussions we have after the concerts!  You ask questions that nobody else asks.  Nobody questions anything in the church because we’re all Christians and we’re all sure, but you make me think about things.  The way you explained blah blah blah is what I’ve been thinking for years!  Can I tell my friends on Sunday?’

Feeling pleased and clever re: my powers of religious exposition, but still somewhat surprised, I gave her my blessing to spread the atheist’s word.

Our other topic of conversation was the music.  ‘What did you think?’ my friend seemed to tentatively ask.  I took the plunge.  ‘I’m not sure, I think the violinist was off key for a lot of the time.  I’m thinking maybe he didn’t tune up properly or something.  But he was playing like he knew what he was doing so I kept thinking the problem was me.’  ‘Phew,’ my friend said, ‘I thought I was the only one.’  So, it turned out the violin player was a bit rubbish but, due to a friendly politeness, we’d all clapped like he was the best thing since sliced bread.  Well, at least the concert was FREE.

In other news, I’ve started painting the lounge with, what is called to those of us in the know, a mist coat.  This is watered down matt paint to seal the new plaster.  The problem with that is that it splashes everywhere, and the second problem with that is that I wear my normal clothes whilst painting, so I currently have an M&S top covered in delightful splatters of paint.  I should wear overalls but it’s just too hot for that kind of thing.

I’ve also been emailing Will Self….. as you do (well a thread of 4 emails to be exact.)  My current obsession with the highly political, controversial, opinionated Mr Self led me to finding his email on the ‘world wide web’ (as he likes to call it.)  I fired off one of my lengthy missives without expecting a reply and good old Will replied.  What a nice, previously drug addled person he must be.  In the manner of Henry Root (from years ago) I’ve got into the habit of contacting famous people, seemingly for the hell of it.

I have also been persuaded to become a member of the Committee on one of my choirs.  I explained that ,with my stammer and my lack of knowledge of, well, anything  that I’d be a pretty useless Committee member and most likely a spare part, but they must be desperate.

In two weeks we’re off to Wales.  I must hope that the heel pain I suddenly developed two days ago will have eased by then.  I looked up heel pain on the world wide web to find something called Plantar Fasciitis, which can last up to a year.  The husband had a bout of that, he said, a while ago, which lasted 4 months, and what’s more had it in both heels, years ago, when his ankylosing spondylitis had been at its torturous peak.  That episode had lasted years.

Putting worries aside of a more sinister cause of the heel pain (and that it could go on for years) I must get back on the ladder and apply more of that mist coat.


What I’ve been Doing

Dear Blog

I’ve neglected you, but you don’t mind do you?   Or perhaps you do, which is why you suddenly disappeared a week ago, walking off in a huff out of the blogging ether.  Thankfully, this was only because I had to renew my DNS fee, a thing I discovered in mild panic when chatting with a Happiness Engineer (oh the wonderful, there-at-a-moment’s-notice HE’s.)   However put out you are, dearest blog, you’re my dependable little friend; always there for a catch up, even if I don’t drop in for simply ages and ages.

So many busy things have been happening.  I’m approaching the last bit of wallpaper that needs scraping off the lounge walls.  For two months the lounge has resembled the sort of room you’d find in one of those telly cleaning programmes where the occupants appear to be living in a nuclear fallout zone.  Not that I’ve seen those kinds of programmes for the past two months, because I haven’t watched TV for two whole months!  Yes, our TV had to have every snarled up power lead unplugged and then TV and stand were banished to the back room, unable to be used since the Sky lead and bog standard aerial are in the lounge.  Two months ago Son No.3 wandered into the lounge with his evening snack, noticed the chairs were all out of whack, plonked himself down on one and stared off into the general direction of the TV, to find a gaping TV-less hole.  The look of gobsmacked surprise on his face surpassed anything you could gawp at on your TV.  ‘Where’s the TV?’  he managed to blurt out.  He couldn’t have been more shocked if he’d come home from work to find his parents had absconded.  ‘Sorry, it’s gone until I get the lounge sorted out,’ I replied.  Since then he can be found morosely chomping on his favourite post-dinner evening snacks, forlornly gazing at iPlayer on his laptop (cornettos, Sainsbury choc chip cookies, babybel cheeses, apples – these are all consumed steadily, one after the other.)

But the eye opener, the absolute revelation (comparable to Paul’s on the road to Damascus) is that I haven’t missed the telly one bit, and neither has the husband.  Of course, this will have something to do with the internet and all its browsing loveliness (new suites for the lounge, knitting blogs etc) but a laptop certainly doesn’t compare to your average HD flat screen telly, and yet I haven’t missed anything about the TV talking heads at all.

And I haven’t been doing much laptop gazing either.  For I have been doing important community spirit type things, like taking part in the local primary school’s Last night of the Proms concert.  This was due to my limited role as children’s choir helper, and being a member of the newly created school adult choir.  Our leader had dreamed up the idea for this overly ambitious concert several months ago and had whispered in my ear, at the first rehearsal, that would I sing the solo bits on The Lord is my Shepherd from The Vicar of Dibley.  I whispered back ‘yes’ immediately, since the concert had been 5 months away, so what did I care at that actual moment in time?  In the ensuing weeks I tended to think of The Solo as something that wouldn’t actually happen; that it was all a figment of my overwrought imagination, until we started rehearsing the song and I was instructed to begin with my solo bit.  Due to a strange blocking out of The Solo, I hadn’t even looked at the sheet music and so launched into the shakiest, breathiest, weirdest solo bit you ever heard.  The Solo bits improved over time and I became less fearful of singing alone in the middle of a bunch of choristers, but still I barely practiced at home, preferring to believe that The Solo was happening in some sort of alternate universe and would be sung by somebody who looked like me but wasn’t actually me.

The day of the concert came and mid-morning it suddenly dawned on me that I would have to sing The Solo to an audience of roughly 250 people.  On previously informing Son No.1 that I was going to be singing in the school concert he got all pretend excited and said you might be another Susan Boyle and become a star on the local church circuit (the idea of there being a ‘church circuit’ tickled us pink.)  The comparison with Susan Boyle did not instil confidence.  I LOVED Susan Boyle at the peak of her BGT fame, but did I want to be thought of as a frumpy, grey haired, pre-makeover Ms Boyle?  Banishing such a vision, and with panic rising, I found some vocal exercises on YouTube and stood in the kitchen, vibrating my lips together whilst humming and turning my head from side to side – this exercise took some time to master; particularly the vibrating lips bit which was just plain stupid.  Desperately hoping the neighbours weren’t listening, I moved on to ‘slight coughs,’ followed by rapid arpeggios that rose up the scale, followed by the bending and straightening of the knees.

When The Solo came around, I discovered I had to stand forward of the rest of the choir and sing into a standing mic that was connected to a proper sound system.  And what a sound system it was. At a rapid rehearsal 30 minutes before the concert, I discovered that the mic made things sort of effortless.  What a wonderful sensation it was to warble into this mic and find that your voice magnified to operatic proportions and bounced off the walls.  My tiny rehearsal weirdly settled most of the nerves (knowing that the mic would take up most of the slack) and The Solo went off without a hitch, although Son No.3 (playing guitar in the concert due to pressure from his mother) did point out that there was a definite crack in the voice midway through, due to nerves.  But what care I?  I sang a solo in front of an audience, for the first time in years, and survived the strange out of body experience.  The downside was seeing myself doing it at the next rehearsal, as our leader’s son had filmed the concert on his phone.  Any pluses, like the fact I’d managed to sing and not just emit a terrified squeak, were immediately negated by watching the overweight, grey haired, fugly (not a typo) vision on screen.  Still, the way to overcome that is to count your blessings.

And the concert was a surprisingly enjoyable experience, a thing I hadn’t counted on, not being a fan of amateur productions or having much community spirit.  There was much flag waving and plenty of Jerusalem and Land of Hope and Glory, which nearly brought a tear to my eyes.  Afterwards, everyone was on a high and my Facebook feed was littered with how wonderful and life affirming it had all been.

The next community thing I did was lead the school’s gala procession.  I didn’t know I was going to lead it until I arrived at the meeting place, which struck me as ridiculous, considering the tiny contribution I make to the school’s life.  I felt like a total imposter.  ‘They obviously can’t get the staff,’ was my one thought as I walked, at a snail’s pace, down to the local castle in weather that was so hot I felt I’d melt away into a puddle, just like the W W of the W.  I carried the school’s all- purpose banner, with help from the lady who organises the gala every year, and for whom it’s an obsession (our theme was Peter Pan and she made all the props – ‘bless her,’ as she would say.)  But the highlight for me was realising that a bloke walking directly in front of me, with a local kids’ drama group, had been a member of a brilliant singing group on our last P&O mini-cruise to Belgium.  We’d stood in the ship’s lift with this four man group, one evening on our way up to dinner, and the husband got chatting (like he always does) and we found out that one of them lived in our town, and we didn’t quite believe him – but there he was, walking in front of me at the gala!

I left, as soon as we got to the castle, due to the intense heat and I had other things to do.  The getting away proved very difficult, as I was badgered into staying to hear the result, but I felt too withered and knackered.  The next day I was told we’d won (like we did the past two years.)  I would have said ‘they’ won, but my community-minded friends always refer to everything as ‘we.’  As a side note, ‘they’ tried to force the husband into walking with the procession when he came to take photos of me in my fairy outfit (yes, I was a fairy, but it’s best not to go there) at the meeting place.  The husband said ‘No,’ six times (I counted) in a firm and manly manner.  If only I could say ‘No’ to things with that degree of unabashed certainty, thought I.

Community things and choir things are not the only things I’ve been doing.  I’ve been helping to write cover letters and job applications.  The latest job application requested that you DO NOT send us a bog standard CV and oh so dreary cover letter, but make your application stand out, you dimwits!!!  So, that’s what they got, a cover letter which will fully test just what they meant by ‘not dreary.’

And the other thing I’ve been doing is reading.  Oh the joy of reading. I at last got my reading mojo back.  In the past two months I’ve read:

Lewis Carroll; The Man and his Circle
In the Shadow of the Dreamchild
Lewis Carroll A Biography
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Through the Looking Glass
The Essex Serpent
After me comes The Flood

You will see an obsessive Lewis Carroll element here, or the Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, or ‘my dearest Charlie,’ as his mother called him – but more of that in future posts.  You will also note an obsession with Victoriana – I was born in the wrong era – well, only if I’d been born into the upper middle classes where they had things like water closets (loos) and plenty of servants.

Yes, reading words that are written on bits of paper is here to stay.  My laptop will never replace the loveliness of turning a page or breathing in the woody perfume of the paper.

And the last thing I’ve been doing is watching the gloriously hang dog, slightly haggard and strangely Victorian looking Will Self on YouTube, who at 17 was addled with drugs, alcohol and cigarettes, a streptococcus infection eating part of his face and worked as a council road sweeper.  The man is a walking dictionary.  If you want to widen your vocabulary (and you do don’t you) then watch the strangely hypnotic Will in full flow, the unheard of before words falling from his lips like nuggets of oral gold.  Words I now know the actual meaning of, because Will is now my free YouTube tutor.  Every time he emits a word that sounds decidedly foreign, I pause my video, look it up via Google then press play, feeling so much cleverer.  Words like:


The remarkable thing (Will would probably never lower himself by ever using the word ‘thing’) is that Will never draws breath.  He never has to pause and say ‘oh what’s the word I’m looking for?’  He simply knows every single word out there.  I wonder if he spends his evenings going through Roget’s Thesaurus?  Will Self is now Professor of Contemporary Thought (what a wonderful job title that is) at the University of Brunel.

Well, that’s it, it’s time for me to leave, expeditiously.