October 16, 2010

Frelled Out of My Own Mouth


I tweeted this a few hours ago:    

I AM SO FRELLED. (I’m just back from piano lesson w Oisin. & we made a DEAL. It was HIS idea. I cld hv said NOOOO. If I had any SENSE. . .)

           It’s all the Computer Men’s fault really.*  I’ve got all expansive and unbalanced by having Finale back.**   It makes me foolish.  It makes me feel as if I’m musical.  It makes me not notice tiger pits till I’ve already fallen into them.  Quite early on in the conversation this afternoon Oisin asked if I’d managed to get hold of the Cherub.***  Yes! I said, all bouncing and gleeful.  Yes!  Yes!  He sounds nice!  He sounds much more sensible and clued-in to things like elderly talent-free women who have strange ideas of fun than any grotesquely over-talented twelve-and-half-year-old ought to!  —I was busy setting up my laptop on one of the slightly-less-teetering piles of sheet music† on the corner of Oisin’s Steinway as I said this.  

          In all truth I haven’t got very far in splatting Vague Noodly Piano Thing onto Gotterdammerung, but that’s partly because I’ve managed to forget a lot of Finale’s little ways in the several weeks since I’ve been able to use it.  The Only Thing Worse Than Finale Is Having No Finale.  Sigh.  I had, with great pain and difficulty, managed to switch myself about three-quarters back to manuscript paper again††—and it’s not like I never use it:  I pretty much always start on manuscript paper so I don’t have to know before I begin what key and time signature I’m in, which Finale demands as part of the votive sacrifice to deliver the supplicant to the manuscript-paper screen.  And now here I am, staring at the blindingly annoying Finale opening screen††† with a little flutter of expectation again.  The flutter is trying to remind me that I will spend at least two-thirds of my time using my composing software trying to find what I need in the help files, and screaming. . . .

            Anyway.  I had a bit of Vague Noodly to show Oisin today:  enough to demonstrate I’m trying.‡  It always makes such a difference to hear a live person play something:  this live person anyway. ‡‡  So when he asked how much of it I thought was down on paper/screen I said with self-astonishing firmness, about a third.  If you’d asked me that question before I heard Oisin play it I would have said:  Unh.  Some. 

            Excellent, said Oisin.  Then I won’t ask you any questions now.  But I’ll have lots of questions when you bring me the rest.‡‡‡

            Still thinking about this ominous ‘lots of questions’ thing I follow Oisin into the kitchen for the ritual cup of Friday-afternoon tea.  And am immediately distracted by the box of Octopus and Chandelier libretti sitting on the counter.   Ooh.  Shiny.  I admit to having very mixed feelings about the Octopus and the Chandelier:  I’m sure the experience is going to be very good for my character.  And . . . think of the blog material.  I should have a shoo-in post every (rehearsal) Sunday for four months.  This is not to be scorned.  However there is still this little Singing in Public impediment to my perfect enjoyment:  the footlights may occasionally reach even to the back row of the chorus, don’t you think?  It worries me.  And I am going to sing.  I am not going to do the old moving-lips-no-sound-comes-out ruse.  Well.  Not deliberately.

            This concatenation of concepts probably explains why I was insane enough, when Oisin said, I’ll make you a deal:  you sing for me and I’ll write you a blog entry, I said you’re on.  You’re what?  He’s what?§  I WHAT?

            I’m trying to tell myself this is a good thing.  I spent most of my year with Blondel whining about how if I weren’t such a coward I’d take advantage of having an experienced professional accompanist available every Friday afternoon for something besides cups of tea.  Gah.  And I’m still whining about it.  It’s a good thing I’ve had my hand forced.  It is.  But if you don’t hear from me next Friday, it’s because I’ve run away to Goa. 

            PS:  Niall made it to tower practise tonight.  Therefore I’m letting him live.           

* * *

* Archangels are very untrustworthy on this corporeal plane.  They have secret super-righteous agendas concerning the perfectibility of the human animal which any mortal knows is tosh.  But it can be very uncomfortable to be caught in some piece of heavenly apparatus.^  OW.  LEGGO.  DOESN’T FIT.  

^ I love the idea that angels and computers have a connection.  But then I have a sick, twisted sense of humour.  

** Gotterdammerung is, at present, working so beautifully I hardly know where to put my crankiness.^  She opens.  She closes.  She moves briskly from one programme to another.  She does not hang.  She does not crash.  She does not produce pop up boxes describing anatomically impossible events and berating me for failing to have my cheezfammers aligned with my gortamflurds.  Don’t I know that there are always compatibility problems with Cheezfammer 2.1 and the entire Gortamflurd empire?  There is, of course, a bug fix for Cheezfammer 2.1, but your internet security Rottweiler-wolverine programme will have kittens if you try to download it. 

            At the moment Gotterdammerung even has Outlook cowed^^, but this happy condition probably can’t last. 

^ Don’t worry.  I’m sure I’ll find something. 

^^ Or possibly axolotled. 

*** Note that Oisin actually calls him the Cherub.  Poor Cherub.  I’m going to have to find a fierce manly name for him.  Attila.  Vlad.  Cuchulainn. 

† I’m always delighted when Oisin’s phone rings while I’m there.  I immediately start rootling shamelessly in the nearest pile.

†† Oisin sniggered when I said this.  I could see he was trying not to.  But he did. 

††† I don’t care who he is.  He’s not Mozart.  Why don’t we get to choose our opening screen shot?  At Finale’s prices, we ought to get a free butler with every order, to bring us cups of freshly made hot tea while we slave over our virtual manuscript paper, discovering that we guessed wrong about the time signature and the home key.  The butler could carry a hip flask as standard. 

‡ I’m now in a quandary about Ring a Ring of Roses.  I couldn’t cope with four voices (SATB) and organ stark and alone on paper, so I had this dazzling flash of creative imprudence and started writing it for four voices and percussion.  Whack, thwap, thud.  I may have told you that, did I?   But now . . . here is Finale again.  I could do two different versions.  The dull thud version and the trying-to-make-my-organist-piano-teacher-crazy version.  Like Verdi reusing one of the best bits of Otello in his staggeringly fabulous Requiem.  Well, maybe not quite like that. 

‡‡ He phrases by ear.  How does he do that??  But it means that what has been blundering around in my skull looking for the exit and whimpering, suddenly looks all solid and purposeful and sounds like its existence has meaning and a future.  

‡‡‡ Is this a good thing or a bad thing for your music teacher to say to you?  No, no, don’t tell me, I don’t want to know.

§ He immediately started caveatting at me that he wouldn’t necessarily write me a guest blog immediately.  Ah, but there he’s on my ground.  I’ll get him. 

In which Tessa Gratton Saves My Day


I am still suffering Dreaded Lurgy Aftermath and it went and got all hot today.  Sweating in October is unattractive and it makes me cranky not that this takes much, especially during Dreaded Lurgy Aftermath.  Hellhounds trailed along during morning non-hurtle like polar bears in Equador . . . guys.  Get real.  And then Peter’s plumber turned up during that slot of time before my piano lesson when, if I’m actually planning on playing something, I’m frantically doing a last minute swot.  He—the plumber—was here for an hour, and couldn’t find anything wrong.  The plumbing at the mews generally is somewhat overpopulated by demons, and lately the kitchen sink has had a large fat demon squatting in the drain.  Peter chases it away briefly with various conjurations, but it always comes back.  Arguably GLUG GLUG GLUG GLUG GLUG provides an interesting bass line for the thrashing I’m giving Ring a Ring a Rosie* but it’s not so good for Mozart.  Of course the drain, or possibly the demon, behaved IMPECCABLY while the plumber was here . . . and less than a quarter hour after he left . . .  GLUG GLUG GLUG GLUG GLUG. 

           So, anyway, I went to Oisin with nothing to show for myself, not that he isn’t used to this, but after last weekend I had all these plans.**  There, there, he said, and started playing his fabulous Notre-Dame-in-your-hip-pocket-or-possibly-Chartres organ, and while I usually stay well across the room not only for sound and resonance purposes but so I won’t be tempted to try and turn pages, I hadn’t moved fast enough in this case and . . . I found myself turning pages because HE HAS A REALLY STUPID MUSIC STAND for the organ and he was playing something that kept falling off.   I hate turning pages.  It’s the most frelling nerve-wracking thing in the universe.  And about three page-turns in I found myself with two pages between my trembling feverish fingers and in the process of trying to RID myself of one of them without either knocking the frelling book off the frelling stand (counterproductive) or blocking his view (ALSO counterproductive) I ENTIRELY LOST TRACK OF WHERE HE WAS so when I finally successfully had only one page to turn . . . I should have turned it about thirty seconds ago.

            At this point we broke*** for a cup of tea. 

            Bell practise did not go a great deal better.

            And Peter is going away for the weekend.  I am going to have to keep myself and hellhounds amused for three whole days.

            So I stumbled and snarled back to the mews for supper†† and . . . discovered this on Twitter:

 @tessagratton Win an ARC of PEGASUS by @robinmckinley! All you have to do is pretend to love Shakespeare for 5 minutes. http://tinyurl.com/2wrrekn 

            Pardon me while I fall about.  I love this.  Shakespeare!  Me!  Shakespeare and me!  Who—ahem—does not love Shakespeare!  Who nonetheless realises that Shakespeare is a GOD and I am a bacterium in the dust under the great man’s feet, or wherever bacteria hang out!†††  And, furthermore, Shakespeare performed!  Sort of in my honour!  Mind you, I haven’t been able to watch Tessa’s videos because all the demons that aren’t infesting the plumbing at the mews are infesting my laptop, but I’ll try to check ’em out‡ on the desktop when I get back to the cottage tonight.

            Suddenly I feel all jolly and cheerful.  Thank you, Tessa Gratton.‡‡  Hee hee hee hee hee.  

* * *

* I was very pleased with myself this week when I suddenly figured out some, ahem, percussion accompaniment for my SATB setting.  This was originally going to be for chorus and organ, but then Finale packed in and I couldn’t get my head around what I was trying to do without some digital assistance so I skulked off and started writing . . . the longest introduction to a Piano Thing I’ve ever frelling seen.  Usually it’s a bar or two and we’re in business.  I’m about to be forced onto a second page and it’s still noodling along trying to decide what it wants to do with its life.  ARRRRGH.  So now I can go back to Rosie for a while and give it a chance to pull itself together.   Maybe I should give it a name.  Maybe that would help.  Oscar.  Jethro.  Frank. 

^ Hammerstein.  Tull.  Bridge.  Hmmm.  No, this didn’t occur to me when I was choosing names.  Obviously my subconscious was hard at work however.

** We did spend some time discussing Oisin’s rather-alarming-as-soon-as-I-allow-myself-to-think-about-it-so-I-am-not-going-to-think-about-it plans for future accompaniment/more-than-one-person-making-noise-at-a-time seminars.  I have totally wrecked my life by saying that OF COURSE I’ll sign up.  OF COURSE.  Gaaaaah.  It’s only because of the weather that I find myself sweating freely.  Oisin keeps saying that kids should just grow up not only with performing music but with the idea that music is something you do with your friends—which I think is also Black Bear’s community orchestra conductor’s idea.  The problem with this is that I agree.  And the eye-opener about last weekend is that something can be done even at my level.^  Now all Oisin needs is a few more fools . . . uh . . . relaxed, open-minded students.^^ I am trying not to think, among all the things I’m trying not to think about these prospective seminars, of Robin among the fifth graders.   All of whom play/sing better than she does.

^ Here I started defining my level, realised this might be construed as unflattering to the other attendees—the ones, in fact, willing to put their mouths and fingers where their money is and perform—and have shut up.  Mmmph.  But as Oisin put it, he would like to start at the level where a hopeful future accompanist just about knows which end of the piano to hold.  Okay.  I can do that.

            Have I mentioned that I told the story of my creeping over to play the piano during the break last Saturday to a friend who put herself through college playing at a piano bar—which is to say they paid her—who just about killed herself laughing.  She says that I have Crossed A Boundary From Which There Is No Return.  Piffle, I say.  The differences between, say, a jaguar and a coffee table are more important than the similarities (they both have four legs.  And if enough people have put wet mugs on the table, they’re both spotty).   There are no piano bars in my future.  But fortunately I don’t need to put myself through college.+ 

+ I still need a new front door for Third House however.  And new kitchen counters for the cottage. 

*** A significant choice of verb. 

† I may even have to roast a fresh chicken for hellhounds.  Peter had to write the instructions out because I forget.  He usually does it.  I look forward to roast chicken for hellhounds:  us mere humans are allowed a few scraps.^ 

^ Speaking of hellhound supper.  Surreal evenings chez McKinley-Dickinson:  Hellhounds are required to sit for their food.  I began this, naively, when they were tiny puppies, because this is one of the ways you slip a little training in without their noticing:  dogs will do ANYTHING for food, right?  So make it easy for yourself, get ’em when they’re motivated.  ::Hollow laughter.::  By a year or two later I’d’ve been happy to lie down and beg if that would have made them eat.  But hellhounds sitting for food, whether they then eat it or not, is still part of the way this ménage runs.  I developed the in-normal-dog-households-what-would-be-a slovenly habit of putting the food down anywhere a hellhound actually sat for it, hoping hellhound was indicating interest rather than mere patterning . . . and I continue to do this.^  Tonight Chaos sat immediately behind Peter’s chair.  I put his bowl down.

            Chaos is right behind you, I said.

            I’m very glad to hear that, said Peter.

 ^ Within reason.  Which is to say within the kitchen. 

†† Sustainably fished tinned tuna.  Not chicken. 

††† Give me a minute.  I’ll try and infect him with something.  Leprosy.  Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

‡ The videos.  I know more about demons than I want to.

‡‡ And may all your commenters be politer and more appreciative of The Great Man than I am.

Surviving a Music Seminar


Much as it pains me to admit it, Oisin was right.  Don’t teachers realise how demoralising it is for their students for teachers to be right?

            I did go to the seminar today.  It was—just as Oisin said it would be—very low ( . . . ahem . . . ) key and friendly.  Gertrude in her other life is a farmer*, so you drive down a very long knobbly track into what is clearly a farmyard**, complete with large rusty harrows, corrugated-tin sheds of indeterminate provenance, and friendly, muddy dogs.  Then you take a hard left past the kids’ bicycles and a lawn mower . . . and find yourself stepping through a door into a large, open, two-storey-with-half-loft music studio embellished with an electric organ, at least one keyboard***, a drum kit, and an eight-foot Steinway.  And a long wall of sheet music on shelves.  Golly.†

            The funny thing is that it was okay.  I didn’t want to die or run away.  One of the singers has done a lot of public performance and a lot of different kinds of public performance†† and another of them I recognise from last summer’s introduction to Oisin’s musical-theatre group.  She’s a soloist:  you won’t have any trouble hearing her over the footlights.  The rest of them are just, you know, people.  Who sing.  Or play the piano.†††

            Since the point of the exercise was for students to practise on each other, the music for both was the easy end.  And where I almost got myself into a lot of trouble was during the tea-and-cake††† interval.  Gertrude, who was rushing around being hospitable, said, Robin, please feel free to play the piano.  Pianos exist to be played.

            I actually did.  This in itself is a first.  But one of the books they’d been using during the first half was one of these ‘community singalong’ collections.  I have my own, and they’re comfort music:  when whatever I’m trying to play, sing or write‡‡ is making me crazy, I will get out Men of Harlech and Annie Laurie and Early One Morning.  I play all of it badly, but I get through. ‡‡   As it happens this book fell open at Drink to Me only with Thine Eyes which is the first thing I memorised, two or three years ago, at the beginning of my Memorisation Phase, partly because I like the tune, partly because it makes me laugh§, and partly because you’ve only got two short lines to learn, because one of them is repeated three times.  There is no frelling way I was going to try to play it from memory today—I was doing well to sit down at the piano and arrange my fingers over the keys§§—but to my disgust this version was in a whole different key than the one I know so my possible advantage was scorched flat.  Sigh.  I played it anyway.  Badly.  And very, very quietly.  And everybody was standing around talking and eating cake, which helped—so did the fact that by then I’d heard everybody else produce some wrong notes.§§§  Perhaps not as many.  But yeah.  I stumbled through quite a few of ye olde favourites, the Steinway helping as it could.  And when it turned out that one of the singers had been given Drink to Me Only as her never-seen-before challenge for the second half, Oisin gave me a very hairy eyeball. 

            I gave him a very hairy eyeball right back.

            But . . . yeah.  If they do it again, I’ll sign up properly.  If Oisin and Gertrude promise that it’ll be at this same relatively nonthreatening level.  Several of you—including one or two on Twitter and FB—in response to mine last night have said that the nice thing about accompanying is that you’re not the centre of attention.  Yes.  What appeals to me about accompanying—the reason why it’s been a secret fantasy as far back as my short spurt of piano lessons in college—is that you’re crucial to the performance# but almost no one notices.  I like the idea of being invisible to all but the cognoscenti.## 

            Which would be a lead-in to the post I keep putting off writing about author self-promotion—in response to some blog posts Jodi has sent me links to—except this one is already long enough and there’s always tomorrow.  Also Peter has written me a paragraph about How He Came to Write ‘In Defense of Rubbish’, so clamour for it, okay?  Then I’ll have to remember to hang it. 

* * *

* I know her sheep well.  Hellhounds, Wolfgang and I regularly meet them on the road outside Ditherington, on their way to see the world.  I know some breeds of sheep are more escape-minded than others;  these clearly are Houdini sheep, or possibly Batsheep or MisterMiraclesheep.  

** Looking out over fields of thoughtful sheep 

*** I may have lost count 

† I assume the rest of the orchestra is in boxes under the loft stairs. 

††  Including stuff like casually swotting up a solo song at the last minute when she was on tour with some choir or other and one of the venues sprung it on them that they wanted a song as part of some local celebration or other.  Okay, not talking to you any more. 

††† Or, in one case, do both.  Hmmm.  A precedent. 

‡ Really excellent cake.  I suffered the doubtless unworthy thought that some of the attendees may have been bribed by the prospect of Gertrude’s cakes.  

‡‡ In any medium 

‡‡‡  One of today’s revelations^ was the business of getting through:  the First Rule is Keep Going.  I know this—of course I know this—from bell ringing.   Beginners always want to slow down and think when they get confused, whereupon every other ringer in the tower will start shouting, Keep going!  Keep going!  You or your conductor has a chance of sorting you out if there is something to sort out:  if someone just stops, you’ve had it.  I nonetheless remember being surprised when, having lurched horribly through one of the little duets with Oisin a long time ago, he said, good:^^  You understand that the First Rule is Keep Going.  And here it was all over again:  the First Rule for either singer or accompanist is KEEP GOING.  Those notes you just missed or murdered are over.  Get on with the next ones!  Parallel with this of course, and making it that much harder, is all those instincts from hours of practise:  you bobble something, you want to stop and do it again till you get it right.  Performance is different!  KEEP GOING! 

^ Or re-revelations, if one can have re-revelations.  Well, one can, if one is I.  

^^ No!  Wrong!  Bad!   

§ I sent thee late a rosy wreath/ Not so much honouring thee/ As giving it the hope/ That there it could not withered be/ But thou thereon didst only breathe/ And sen’st it back to me/ Since when it grows and smells, I swear/ Not of itself but thee.  —Italics mine.  Hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee. 

§§ I think it’s something to do with the Steinway part.  Must.  Play.  Steinways.  Oisin has a Steinway.  I, for pity’s sake, have a Steinway.  And I still haven’t told you How I Found My Piano, have I?  I wasn’t going to buy a Steinway.  I was going to buy a Bosendorfer.  Hey, aim high.  This is a rant for some other day, but you really should buy the best piano you can afford.  This business of a piano being ‘good enough for a beginner’, as seen every day in the ‘for sale’ column of your local paper, is so counterproductive.  One of the things that nails you is the sound.  And you’re not going to get sound to die for on a £50 and-you-have-to-move-it piano, poor thing.  Obviously you’re not going to buy a Steinway before you start lessons—unless you have more money than sense—but if you notice that playing is getting under your skin BUY YOURSELF A GOOD PIANO. 

§§§ With the possible exception of Oisin.  Who, not that I’m prejudiced or anything, was the star of the show.  Accompanying is one of the things he does.  He not only knows what he’s doing, he’s funny about it.  He also has that good-teacher ability to find something good to say about ANY performance, no matter how dire.  I have been grateful for this skill once or twice myself.  

# As Oisin says, be nice to your accompanist.  He or she can destroy you. 

## Of course I’d rather be invisible to the cognoscenti too but . . .

How Not to Recover from Dental Surgery in an Efficient and Timely Manner


Zero energy.  Zeeeeeeeeeerooooooooo.  Ugh.  Adrenaline spikes optional.  Will get to that in a minute.

            Meanwhile, it’s raining.  There’s nothing like teeming rain not to encourage me to stop being a total wimp and get those poor sad time-short-from-yesterday hellhounds outdoors.  Poor sad hellhounds agree about this for just long enough to get outdoors, and then they stare at me, through the teeming wet stuff, with disbelief and, when I don’t show any signs of doing something about it, start clamouring to get back indoors again.  No, no, we have to go march around the (soggy) landscape for a while.  Develops character.* 

            But zero energy and the mood-oppressive qualities of rain did mean that I tottered off to my so-called piano lesson this afternoon looking forward to a cup of tea and listening to Oisin play—I’ve told you he’s now got this TOTALLY FABULOUS organ computer programme?  And over the last few months the bits of kit to go with it keep appearing and getting plugged in.**  His music room isn’t that big, so when he starts doing his Phantom of the Opera act it pretty well pastes your hair back.  The funny thing is how glorious it is. 

            In hindsight I realise that it is a measure of Oisin’s profound self-restraint as a music teacher that when I told him I didn’t like recorded organ music he didn’t throw me out and tell me never to darken his door again.  (Slightly in my defense this was before I realised he loved the pipe organ above all things.)  He let me stay long enough to explain that it’s what I call the bullying of it:  it seems to me to come out of standard stereo speakers like that third grader who used to wipe the pavement with me every day after school, let me see, fifty-two years ago, when I was in first grade.  Heavy, hard, noisy, and mean.  Although (as Oisin likes to point out) his new paragon runs on two stereo speakers . . . trust me.  It’s different.  A Friday afternoon without Oisin playing his electronic monster and pasting my hair back is now a melancholy shadow of what it should be.

            Last week he’d given me a print-out of the information page for a seminar he’s running with a local voice teacher,*** for voice students and piano students to learn a little more about the art of singing with accompaniment.  Did I know anyone who might be interested in playing the piano?  It’s easier to find nascent singers than nascent accompanists, and they’re short piano players.  No, I don’t, not in this country anyway.  Well, take it with you, he said, flapping the page at me.  In case you think of anyone.

            I didn’t think of anyone.  And the page has apparently already entered its second life as scratch paper, because when I looked for it today I couldn’t find it.  Not like this is a big deal—although I did ask Oisin last week if this was the sort of seminar where someone, ie me, could come along just to listen.  I’m interested in both sides of this particular architectural divide and would like hearing some of the nuts and bolts of it discussed.

            I now forget exactly how it came up, since the blood started coming out of my ears shortly thereafter, but today I asked if he’d found out if tomorrow’s seminar was permitting rogue audience members and he looked slitty-eyed for a minute and then told me . . . that I should be taking the seminar as an accompanist.


            Has he forgotten that I can barely play for him?  Because I’m so preoccupied with the nervous breakdown attendant on anything remotely resembling public performance, ie that anyone else can hear me?  That when I bring him something I’ve written I make him play it?  IS HE JUST CRAZY OR IS HE DANGEROUS?

            A! D! R! E! N! A! L! I! N! E!   S! P! I! K! E!

            So.  Anyway.  I’m flattered silly, but as totally appalling compliments go, this is about as grotesque and horrifying as it gets.  BLEAGH BLAH URGH AAAURP, I said, or words to that effect.†  He did acknowledge—and I am grateful for small favours—that if he were going to try to make me do this—It would be good for you! he kept saying.  Being a New York Times bestseller would be better for me! is my response—he should have got me in a necklock several weeks back and held my head under water till I agreed to sign up.††  But . . . [bad language here].  One of the things that is probably going on is that he has remembered, in that really annoying way of good teachers, that in a weak moment I’ve admitted that I have a secret fantasy of being an accompanist.  It’s the old practical thing again.  For someone who has fatal stage fright it’s a bit weird, but there’s an upper limit to my desire to polish up my performance of anything for the hellhounds.†††   I was never going to be Mitsuko Uchida or Susan Gritton‡ but third-string back-up accompanist to the school chorus or back row of the chorus for the local amateur theatre group . . . that sounds like fun.  Well, sort of.  If I could find the ‘off’ button to the Freaking Out.

            I should stay at home and read more.

 * * *

 * I also have a strange desire to demonstrate in public the art of picking up after your dog, so that the dog-free will see that it happens.  I like—well, sometimes I like—watching the faces of people walking toward us.  The friendly are friendly:  they’re fine, except when there are small leaping children involved, because Chaos, not unnaturally, immediately wants to leap too.  The indifferent don’t trouble me:  not everyone understands the marvellous furry excellence of dogs.^  It’s the ones whose faces tell me that if it were up to them, dogs would be banned, or at least not allowed on public ground, that worry me.  And I always wonder if this may have something to do with indiscriminate piles of dog crap about the place.  

^ Poor sad deprived things.  I do just about understand that not everyone wants a dog.  I am staggered by people who have no interest in companion animals at all.  I don’t mean people who can’t have them, due to landlords or allergies or other luckless circumstances.  I mean people who are just not interested.  It’s like missing a limb or not being able to feel pain or something.  Not to them, presumably.  

** At present he’s moaning about keyboards.  He wants to upgrade.  About time, I say, crisply.  He has a pedalboard that is a creature of ash-and-ebony beauty aside from mere function, and he should have keyboards to match, rather than these leftover things from his little attic recording studio.  He keeps trying to be restrained and sensible.  I keep trying to stop him being restrained and sensible.  He really shouldn’t talk to me about it.  I am a bad influence.^

^ I’m trying. 

*** No.  She’s serious.  I think she’d make me cry.^

^ No, I haven’t rung the Cherub yet.  Hate me.  Go on, I know you want to.

† I may have said something about how if they do it again next year, I might think about it if I were given enough advance warning.  I hope I didn’t say this.  

†† A few weeks ago wouldn’t have been enough:  I’ve been booked for yesterday’s frelling dental surgery for a long time.  And—barring adrenaline spikes, which, frankly, put my recovery back—if I’m zero today I’ll be about 50% tomorrow if I’m lucky.   

††† Note that Oisin still hasn’t heard me sing.  Here I have this experienced, professional accompanist available at the drop of a Friday afternoon . . . and I keep chickening out.^

^ I rest my case.

‡ Besides, being a world-famous pianist or soprano would mean touring.  I already don’t tour as a very-small-time-semi-world-famous author.

Howling, various


 Today has NOT been one of my better days.  Let’s start over.  It’s 3 am and I’m already asleep. 

Blondel had a wedding in London to sing today and it had occurred to me after we’d already made our plan of a second voice lesson Thursday afternoon that, in my experience of weddings, he might be being a little optimistic about timing.    So I had a plan for an alternate afternoon in Mauncester.  What a pity I didn’t use it.  It would have had to have been more successful than the one I lived through.  Blondel was in fact a little late, but more to the point he arrived tired and ruffled—having managed to get lost finding his way back out of some London labyrinth*—so we ran a little later yet while he had a glass of water** and de-ruffled.***

And then . . . oh gods . . . the lesson itself was a disaster.  Dido?  Dido is spinning in her grave.  And Janet Baker probably has an unimaginably ghastly stomachache of metaphysical, not to say necromantic, origin.†  I was then so freaked out by the destruction I was wreaking that when Blondel suggested we try something else I couldn’t get through Fear No More.  I can sing Fear No More.††  But not today.  AAAAAAAUGH.†††

There were two brief moments when I wasn’t looking around for a sword to impale myself on.  One of them was that Blondel has given me a goofy new exercise that I very nearly have to learn like a new song—but it’s amusing.  Kind of a lot of your warm-up exercises are a snore, they’re just excercises for the purpose of waking your voice up and telling it has to work for a living.†††  It’s not a big deal;  I like scales.   But this one’s fun.

The second not-nearly-long-enough moment was . . . Blondel sang Fear No More—upon request, and I suspect he only agreed because he too wanted to end the Hour That Should Not Have Been Born(e) on a better note than any of them thus far—so I’ve finally heard him sing.  OooooohMy.‡  Maybe I should revert to the impaling scenario.  Siiiiiiiigh.

It was now a good deal later than I realised.  And I had handbells at 5 pm.  Well, I was supposed to have handbells at 5 pm.  I rang Penelope and asked her to please tell Niall I was going to be late.  Half past latest, I said.  But I was still in Mauncester at that point.‡‡  And you may have noticed the way they joyfully rip up the roads in high tourist season.‡‡‡  So by the time I got home I had written several sharp letters to the Hampshire County Council in my head and I was flatlining in both energy and morale—and I had to give poor sad patient hellhounds at least a token hurtle before I went off and left them again.  But my presence for handbells wasn’t crucial, because Titus was coming—which was why it was at Niall’s house instead of my cottage, he of the big enough and relatively tidy sitting-room—so he and Colin and Titus could get on with minor (six bells:  three people) while I sat down for five minutes and ate a nectarine.  And I hadn’t looked at the bob major (eight bells:  four people) enough anyway, so—especially after the voice lesson I’d just had—I wasn’t minding the idea of putting off the revelation of my handbell deficiencies a little longer still.

So it was more like 5:45 when I arrived . . . to find Niall and Titus sitting alone in silence.  Because Colin was not there.  Which I should have known, but I’d forgotten, and I hadn’t written it down.  OH.  GODS.  And the only reason they didn’t kill me is because they’re British.  Also, I suppose, because they still wanted to ring handbells.  Which was what we were there for after all.  Some of us sooner than others.  

Handbells, once begun, were relatively successful.  I’ve told you about Titus:  he’s the one had the stroke fifteen or so years back and only has proper use of one hand—so he rings both bells in one hand, and I cannot BEGIN to tell you how confusing this is, not to mention the inevitability of rather a lot of rows that have seven or eight dings in them instead of the statutory six.  But I stayed late enough that we could stop when Titus’ hand started getting tired, by which time people were even smiling at me again.  Although Niall, who has no conscience whatsoever, while I was still in grovelling and whimpering mode, whipped out his diary with an evil gleam in his eye, and booked me in for handbells in Frellingham with one of his demon ringers on a Wednesday they haven’t got a third ringer.  He’s been trying to get me to Frellingham for months, and I keep weaselling out of it, but this has got harder since I don’t have Wednesday Ditherington practise as a permanent shield and defense any more.  GAAAAH.  I think I’m nailed on this one.

And now I have a little dog to finish.  The way this day is going . . . well.  I’ve already decided I want to put my lament through my friend’s door on my way back from my piano lesson tomorrow.§  It won’t be finished, but the friend is, as I’ve said, musical, and if he doesn’t just throw something large and heavy at me the next time he sees me, he might have some editorial input.  Also I want to have made the gesture some time before the new puppy he  brings home in six months or so reaches its second birthday.

Okay.  Onward.  And I’m hoping for upward. 

* * *

* My immediate reaction was, you drove?  When you’ve got a train station in your back garden?  I’ve got the American’s view of the British train system too—it may make you frelling crazy, and it often does, but it exists.  After almost twenty years here I am still blown away by the sheer fact of the public footpath system, and of the national rail network.  Even if the reason I finally broke down and bought my first mobile phone is so that I could make ‘I’m sitting in a train a hundred yards^ outside Waterloo and have been for the last twenty minutes, and I’m going to be late for lunch’ phone calls.  Which I suppose is the answer to why he didn’t take the train.  The day you’re late to perform for a wedding is the day the wedding will run on time. 

^ Or metres, if you prefer 

** Normal people would have a cup of tea or a double scotch.  Singers are always thinking about their throats. 

*** And we compared notes on the weird stuff some people lay on for the euphonious exaltation of their weddings.  I am forced to conclude that the average level of musical education among the general populace is even worse than the boffins say.  

† Okay, Janet Baker does not have a stomachache of unknown origin today, because if she had a stomachache every time some voice student—even the slightly smaller category of voice students who think she walks on water—mangled something she is famous for singing heartbreakingly superbly, she’d be too weak to get out of bed in the morning, and I’d prefer to think she is still enjoying her retirement.  

†† I didn’t say well, okay? 

††† Note to self:  Do not agree to a second voice lesson in a week.  Not even if you’re planning on spending all night at the piano and beating that frelling G into submission (while Peter is safely elsewhere playing bridge).  Clearly the pressure is Too Great for a spindly amateur. 

‡ Think Keystone Kops.  

‡ Golly gosh wowie zowie eeep.  Geezum.  Gazinklebats.  Bryn Terfel had better look to his crown.  Although one of the things about Terfel is the size of his voice.  He could fill Heathrow.  Tear out all those ugly terminals and put in some bleachers.  And Blondel says that his own voice is not that large.  You couldn’t prove it by me:  he was pasting me to the back wall of his studio clearly without trying.  I can see/hear why people keep giving him jobs.  Although I kinda wish he’d been having an off day when he applied for the job he’s going to the end of August. 

‡‡ Sort of the backwards version of the ‘I’m sitting 100 yards outside of Waterloo’ mobile-phone call. 

‡‡‡ This makes some sense in Maine, where the temperature may drop below freezing and snow begin falling any time, you just get to complain if it happens in June.  In southern Hampshire. . . . 

§ My voice lesson today was the little dog’s fault.  I may have spent most of last night at the piano, but quite a bit of it was about a lament for a little dog, not for a queen of Carthage.

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