Like the vultures and hawks, whose attention was entirely caught by the falconer’s lure, at last weekend’s visit to The Hawk Conservancy, I’ve been successfully lured into watching Mortimer and Whitehouse: Gone Fishing on BBC2……and, after last night’s episode, I can definitely say I’ve willingly taken this televisual bait and am now hooked.
One of the reasons must surely be that I’m of the same vintage as Messrs Bob and Paul. I’m 2.5 years off 60 (nearing my own personal Diamond Jubilee, only it’s highly unlikely that anyone will get their flags out) and I know where they’re coming from – minus the heart problems (stents for Paul and triple bypass for Bob and I’m frantically touching my wooden coffee table here) – in terms of time running out, and what that realisation does to you, in terms of what really matters.
I also know all about Bob’s ‘heart healthy’ eating. I’m currently dieting; well not dieting, that’s the wrong word. I’m changing my eating mindset, which favours biscuits, ice cream, chocolate and cakes, to one which chomps down a healthy breakfast, lunch and dinner, minus the rubbish in between. I’ve been doing this for the last two weeks, in preparation for my solo (more on which later) and already feel like a svelte, slimmer, younger version of myself (of course that glowing self-image is mainly in my own head.)
After witnessing Bob also mention his cholesterol level (8.something) – this has further spurred me into action on the healthy diet front, being mine is just a couple of points behind his. Was it the cholesterol that did for him, heart-wise though? Scared by the knowledge that he and I are in the same horrific cholesterol territory, I rapidly consulted Google, with regard to Mr Mortimer, to discover that Bob was previously a rabid smoker, so much so that he would light up in the cinema in nicotine defiance of those no smoking signs. Bob is also a drinker and, judging by Gone Fishing’s first episode, maybe a long ago drug taker too?
Not that any of those ‘unhealthy’ pastimes are guaranteed to give everyone arterial damage and the resultant heart failure, but surely the heavy smoking would have made some sort of contribution (thought I, hoping that it wasn’t just the cholesterol number.) So, like Bob and Paul (if they were non-drinkers, non-smokers, non-drug addicts and non-famous) I’ve given up on the biscuits and the cheese and am, instead, reaching for the grapes and the apples and the sultanas (boring and curiously non-satisfying, but what can you do when you’re 57 and continually picturing your demise?)
And so Gone Fishing is curiously what my own life is currently all about.
Like many other similarly gentle, celebrity-led programmes, Bob and Paul want us to see how stunningly beautiful the British countryside is. The larking about with fishing rods is just a convenient excuse to wend their way around some of the loveliest scenery in the world, whilst staying in some of the most striking and solitary UK holiday accommodation I’ve ever seen. I’m way ahead of them here, as my weekly traipsing around Britain’s rural attractions bears witness to. Suddenly an English meadow, with one solitary imposing tree stuck in its middle, can almost bring me to tears. I only have to see a river, rippling its winding pathway between green and glorious riverbanks, to give thanks to a non-existent God for allowing me to be born and raised on this sceptred isle.
Mortimer and Whitehouse are old friends (30 years+) who, like many other friends, gradually lost touch over the years until a shared crisis (heart disease) and the accompanying threat of a visit from the Grim Reaper, caused them to reconnect and embark on a voyage (of sorts) into their pasts and their possible futures. Episode 1 saw them reminiscing about their wayward childhoods (smoking and drugs) and wondering why we so easily lose sight of our childhood fascinations (scaletrix (meccano anyone?) and, in Bob’s case, fishing.) This never happened to me. My interests are still the interests I held as a child. I can still lose myself in a book. I still colour in. I still sometimes bash the keys on my ancient piano. I still avoid all adult responsibilities. So, now that Bob and Paul have made an acquaintance with Death, it appears that they’ve rapidly regressed to childhood, eager to see the world anew, and eager to make every second count. This is especially evident in Bob’s case.
How curiously appealing the balding, big nosed Mr Mortimer is in his 1950’s style hat – like a character straight out of Dickens. And how curiously childlike. ‘Paul,’ he continually pleads. ‘Paul, can I get me rod out? (my double-entendre intended) ‘Paul, Paul,’ he goes. ‘What do you think of this Paul; is this ok Paul?….’ Until all I heard was ‘Dad, Dad, look at me bright blue rod Dad….Dad, Dad, I can cook heart healthy food I can Dad! This effortless childlike quality particularly shone when a line of geese flew by over the river: ‘wonder where they’re going,’ Paul enquired, echoing a thought I’ve had many times, being our house is in the flight path of a group of geese who fly past every Autumn. ‘The pictures?,’ Bob replied immediately. If your ears blinked at that moment (as mine nearly did) you’d have missed that quietly hilarious moment.
My oldest friend and I never call each other by our Christian names. In fact, since I became a mother, nobody ever calls me by my Christian name. But Bob and Paul’s conversations are littered with Bobs and Pauls, and how endearing it is; how curiously polite and respectful.
In Wednesday night’s episode 2, Bob and Paul visited a vicar (after a classic bit of Reeves and Mortimer style comedy featuring the ‘power of the wader,’ from Bob) in an effort to find the answers to life, the universe and everything. Both staunch atheists (particularly Paul) they made valiant attempts to believe the comforting Christian notion that life carries on after death. Bob felt that many people must eventually consult a vicar about the subject of Death and illustrated this in the funniest (and scarily truest way possible.) ‘Ralph’s dying,’ he intoned in the manner of your average nagging, old woman, ‘I’ve been slowly poisoning him vicar, ‘cos he’s getting on me tits hanging around the house.’
The vicar (Jane) turned out to be a bit of a middle-aged, posh totty stunner (in a non-made up, home counties kind of way) with a couple of frighteningly large moles on her face (bringing the melanoma scene from John Candy’s Uncle Buck to my mind) and cascadingly sexy hair framing her bespectacled face. Paul and Bob went all sedate and quiet in her churchly presence, adopting a much posher and gentler tone in their ‘working class’ accents. They briefly discussed sin and repentance. Jane revealed that she doesn’t believe in Hell, and that ‘old’ Christianity used these sort of scare tactics to keep the plebs under control, thus revealing herself to be the curious paradox that is the intelligent atheist hiding beneath the vicar’s robes; coupled with seeing nothing wrong in Marxism. I imagined most of the Christians I know balking at her ideology here, which is exactly what’s wrong with most religions…… all that infighting, based on books which were only relevant to the times in which they were written, whilst remaining open to so many differing (mis)interpretations.
But enough of Gone Fishing (there are four more episodes to come and I’ll be glued to the telly.) Like Paul and Bob, I am also going through a semi-crisis, which may require Divine assistance.
Last night I went along to my much smaller choir (the one where I’m not doing a solo.) A woman attends this choir, who also attends the choir where I’ll be giving my version of Never Enough. Last Monday night I was forced to go through my solo for the first time in front of the choir. This involved getting up on stage and holding a radio mic (something I’ve never done before and boy are they heavy.) We were first treated to the two male soloists’ performances, one playing a lovely Scottish piece on the piano and one belting out a tune from My Fair Lady (confidently and joyfully, maintaining eye contact all the while with his audience.) As I had to sing next, both these solos passed me by in a blur of anticipatory anxiety. Then it was my turn.
I ascended the stage, grabbed the mic and listened to the intro of my backing track before launching into the song. I didn’t know how to stand. I didn’t know how to hold the mic. I could barely hear the backing track. The end result was that I spent most of the song gripping the mic for dear life with two hands (to stop them shaking) and sang with my eyes closed (to block out the choral audience.) My body was trembling from head to toe. I made a nervous hash of it. When it was over I ran to my chair.
During tea break the group I sit with made loads of complimentary noises. ‘What a lovely song,’ they said. ‘ We’ve never heard it before, where’s it from?’ One of the male soloists suddenly appeared from nowhere to give me rapturous praise. The head of committee suddenly, seemingly, popped up from behind a chair and said ‘amazing.’ I said, no, it wasn’t, I’d been a nervous wreck. ‘It didn’t show!’ everyone kindly exclaimed. All lovely, supportive comments from lovely supportive people. My confidence was boosted. I went home believing that yes, maybe a middle-aged woman (who should know better) could actually sing a solo in a concert and get away with it.
Monday night changed all that with a few well-chosen vitriolic words. The woman in question is older than me and has a daughter in the same choir, who also auditioned for a solo and was passed over in favour of my song. Her daughter is the epitome of a confident career woman in her mid 30’s. She sweeps into our rehearsal room every week, swinging her long dark hair behind her. She got herself onto the committee after joining the choir only a year ago. She sang a solo at last year’s concert, demonstrating exactly how to hold a mic, what to do with your hands and how to shine with confidence. There was really no-one else to compete with her.
Her mother approached me at the end of rehearsal last night, as I was running out of the door:
‘How did you feel on Monday night when you sang your solo, you looked terrified.’
‘Yes I was terrified obviously,’ I replied, sensing that this conversational assault was going somewhere and I wasn’t going to like it.
‘No, really, you looked awful. I’ve never seen anyone so nervous on a stage. Have you practised your song? (Oh, the insidious way of saying ‘you’re so crap, you don’t even sound as though you’ve sung it before.)
‘Yes, I’ve practised,’ I’ replied, wondering why I was allowing her to do this, and why I didn’t just say sorry I’ve got to go.
‘You’re going to need much more practise for it to sound ok on the night,’ she continued ‘you must ask C to let you practise many more times before the concert (knowing this is impossible as there’s just one week to go to the concert.)
‘Ok,’ I said, stunned into near silence.
‘You’re voice was so constrained by nerves,’ she carried on, ‘that you didn’t do the song justice, your voice didn’t come through at all.’ (I’ll mention here that she doesn’t even know the song)
At this point I cut her onslaught short before she got onto the fact that I’m also old, overweight, grey haired and further more just who the hell do I think I am???!!!!…………and left the building.
So, I’m a racehorse who got nobbled before the big race. I’m an athlete who got spooked on the starting line by a vicious rival. I’m a star performer who got poisoned by her understudy. I went to my car and sat there for a good 10 minutes processing everything she’d said. I was shaken and every tiny ounce of confidence I’ve ever had in my life disappeared. I was on the verge of overwrought tears until I told myself that there are, in fact, far far worse things in this life than somebody telling you you’re a bit rubbish at singing.
On arriving home I told the husband. ‘Do it anyway,’ he said. ‘Do it, just to let her know that you’re not going to let some old b**** stop you doing something you want to do. Anyone would be nervous singing it for the first time on stage, just forget about it.’
But it was too late. I no longer believed any of the people who’d thrown compliments my way. They were just doing it to boost my confidence when, in fact, they were all snickering behind my back discussing my rubbish qualities as a singer. What this woman had confronted me with last night was actually the truth.
So I fired off a message to my friendly committee member, telling her of this turn of events (confidentially, which is laughable when I’m publishing it on the public blogosphere) and that I was relinquishing my solo spot to one of the people who’d failed their audition, as I now know that I am, in fact, rubbish and why on earth did they pick me anyway?
An answer arrived which convinced me to carry on, not only from the singing point of view but for personal reasons too. For, it seems that, in a very X Factor kind of way (the emotionally blackmailing bits that I can’t stand – not that I ever watch it) the choir committee feel that I am an inspiration, in that I have gone from a nervous, jabbering wreck, who could barely get out an ‘hello,’ to someone who volunteered to sing a solo. This means that fellow wallflower choir members will be inclined to think, well if that lunatic can do it, we can too!
I’m no saint. I’ve harboured critical thoughts about ‘performers’ in any field but have never voiced them directly. There’s nothing wrong with allowing somebody (as my supportive choristers did) to maintain the belief that they’re actually good at something.
Furthermore, ours is an amateur choir, therefore professional standards are not to be even thought of, let alone expected. My singing is a hobby. Hobbies should be enjoyable, not fraught with alienation, competition and snobbery. But that’s your average Club for you (and why I’ve never been a Club person), beset with the frailities and little cruelties of oh so human nature.
If I manage to get through my solo, now that I know that my performance will be an embarrassment, then I will give myself a pat on the back and say what does it matter? You sang this solo for yourself because you’re old and, like Mortimer and Whitehouse, you wanted to re-capture some of your long ago youth before it really is too late.