Follow one crying eye on

How not to make decisions, and other stories

After every significant achievement, there can be some satisfaction, some happy reflection and then the perhaps inevitable pondering over future activity? On the back of her most recent glorious success, otherwise known as the encouraging absence of humiliating failure in Italian choral activity (as documented last time), your blogging heroine is once again pondering “What next?” You may recall her very same question after completion of the South West Coast Path in April/May.

What stupendous achievement can we expect in what remains of 2023, as the months gallop towards another Yule, and yet another birthday recedes in the rear-view mirror?

Naturally, the hours spent painfully attempting to embed a tenor line into a Tena-lady’s soggy brain-cells with any lasting effect are already long forgotten. As indeed are most of those melodious tenor lines; space is needed in the grey soup for shopping lists, home admin tasks and the seemingly endless psychodrama of healthcare appointments.

Yet still an interesting confidence hovers for a while. Enthusiastic internet searches for prestigious London chamber choirs are conducted. Websites are explored and samples played on YouTube. Eventually, a greater grip on reality is achieved and emails are exchanged with a view to singing in a much larger local but still very well-regarded choir which will require an actual audition. Momentum and a brief surplus of positivity spurs her on.

I can do this! I can also now – hurrah, you say – dispense with the daft theoretical third-person ponderosity (side note – I checked to see if I had really made this word up, and I had not – but it may rather mean ‘heaviness’ or ‘heftiness’ which is possibly more appropriate given my increasing girth) and get on with more practical stuff.

I am invited to attend a rehearsal to ‘see how we get on’.

The first of this season’s rehearsals for the choir I have contacted duly arrives and I set off, by train, with a sense more of purpose than trepidation. Arriving in good time, I am greeted by several people I know who are already members, including (sigh) a fearsome couple I had conveniently forgotten would be there. During the course of the evening, most of these people are helpful and encouraging; the ‘couple’, however, hone in on me in a pincer movement at break time to remind me of weirdnesses past, seemingly competing with each other to effect a peculiar but relentless sanctification of my son for his support of their own offspring at school many years ago. Don’t get me wrong, my son is a wonderful man and was perhaps an amusingly talented teenager – but a saint he is, and was, not. Slightly unnerved, I return to my seat for the second half of the rehearsal wondering whether this might not be a good idea after all. Will I be mobbed every week? (Thinks – is this what fame is like? – hahaha! Get over yourself woman!)

My immediate tenor neighbours at this rehearsal are more appropriately friendly. The only other ‘lady’ tenor has already advised me that if I am offered an audition tonight, I should take it and get it over with. Whilst I had not expected to audition so soon, it makes a lot of sense. What would be the point of trying to decide whether to join if I don’t yet know if they will have me? So when the five newbies are asked if they would like to take the audition this evening, I am the first to volunteer and thus the first to find myself standing nervously alongside the grand piano in the middle of the rehearsal hall (a private school’s sports-hall I think), with the old-school choir director poised at the keyboard with my musical fate in his gift.

He has managed to get a story exhibiting his Oxford organ-scholar origins into the evening’s proceedings and on more than one occasion during the rehearsal has referred to the tenors and basses as ‘Gentlemen’ – which of course makes me smile and wince simultaneously (and, if I’m honest, make a mental note that this will be good blog-fodder, which as you see has indeed come to pass – a rare feat of recall on my part, given that I refrained from making an immediate note on my phone for fear of marking me out as some kind of mole with the potential to find myself chorally blackballed).

Now faced with this nervous-looking applicant who, despite first appearances is brazenly claiming a place amongst the ‘men’, he expresses surprise and also amusement at my list of choral experience (which of course simply makes me wish I had invented something completely spurious instead). Perhaps this makes me more inclined to belt out the requested scales with more braggadocio than coloratura but the rehearsal has warmed up the vocal chords and I don’t care. I am rather pleased with the result.

Hmm, pride comes before a fall, as they say. I am for some reason reminded of a driving test and recall my misplaced positivity on at least two such occasions. And, perhaps predictably, I fail at the next task – singing back the middle note in a chord of three. At least I pick one of the other two notes played, just not the correct one. I am duly and drily informed of this and all remnants of confidence leave me. Back to that driving test, I might as well reverse into a wall now because I won’t have passed anyway.

Although I easily sing back the four notes he plays next, I am now firmly in quaking-kneed teenage music oral exam territory as well as behind the L-plates on my mother’s Vauxhall Viva, and fear that even an exquisite hill-start is not going to help me. I am presented with some sheet music and asked to sing the tenor line. I think at this point there were some gentler comments that it was ok, he was going to play the accompaniment rather than just stare at me while I muddled through, but I did a short impression of a rabbit in the learner-driver headlights (sorry – I am getting tired of this mixed metaphor myself – will stop) and after completing the first line on autopilot (ok, mixing beyond metaphor now) I find myself on the wrong line entirely and grind to a halt. Assuming this is curtains and I have at last been thoroughly found out, I prepare to make my exit, but no – the ignominy is to continue a little longer. “Well, you’ve missed your cue there – but carry on.” I glance more carefully, find the correct second line, restart and the next thing I know the piano ceases and I am informed that “ok, well you found your way again there”. Weakly smiling – it’s nice of him to try and cheer me up a little I suppose – I thank him, hoping that this is the end and wondering whether I will have a long time to wait at the station for the next train.

“You’re in!”

Effusive thanks and I make my escape. Well…hurrah, I suppose. I have just missed a train so it is indeed a long wait at the almost-deserted station. A jubilant wait though.

A balmy, though autumnally, early-dark evening is later spent with my a capella singing friends attempting, reasonably successfully, to harmonise a few good choons. In fact, the evening brings me down to earth somehow, especially as my relief, surprise and relative cheeriness at my recent audition success is swiftly punctured by the comment ‘Ah, they’re desperate at the moment – they’d take anyone!’ Not much more to say on that really. And, along the lines of what someone (Marx? Not Karl!) once said – ‘I don’t want to be part of any club that would have me as a member.’ – I decide to drink wine rather than the grape juice I had intended to quaff and proceed to enjoy my evening anyway.

However, on the morrow I am if anything even less inclined to join, despite (or maybe even partly because of) being bombarded with all the ‘paperwork’ in my email inbox resulting from my audition success. I never was much of a morning person.

Of course, I will join. I’m just keeping them (and myself!) guessing. I’m possibly experiencing a bit of SAD (seasonal affective disorder) and using it as an excuse for prevarication and grumpiness. Once again, get over yourself!!!

And so I obediently get over myself. Proving that my attention span is fortunately as short for low mood as it is for everything else these days, I am almost immediately cheered up by the chance re-discovery, during a rare five-minute cleaning burst, of a Conservative Party sticker lurking on an inside flap of my trusty Mickey Mouse shoulder bag – approaching its 22nd birthday which is a joy in itself. I ‘acquired’ this true blue memento/prop as the result of a ridiculous (and sadly unbroadcast) performance as a Tory faithful lady in The Crown back in 2021. When affixing the sticker shortly thereafter, I wryly imagined what consternation its discovery might cause amongst my left-leaning friends should it be mistaken as genuinely mine. Of course, it is so well-hidden that I have not even noticed it myself for most of the intervening period. So that worked out about as well as the many witty comments I’ve come up with after events but never actually uttered.

I am cheered even more by a trip up to North London – the still-alien-to-me hinterland that is Kentish Town despite Daughter J’s brief inhabitance thereof – to attend the launch gig of Little A’s music EP at a café performance venue. Little A, you may recall, is the daughter of a good friend and was a fellow ‘lady’ tenor (definitely not a Tena-lady) on the recent Italian tour.

I arrive early due to a combination of my distrust of public transport (always take one train earlier than the timetable would suggest) and a mistaken assumption that because there were start and finish times on my tickets I would need to be in place for the start. On arrival with twenty-five minutes to spare and after a nonchalant saunter-past to see if I could risk going in, I spot a man I recognise who appears to be queuing for a drink at the front of the venue. I tentatively approach, realising as I get closer that he is the only punter there. I am too close to back off now, and it is only 20 minutes before advertised kick-off time, so I go in and introduce myself. I know we have many mutual friends who will be along shortly, and we attended the same college years ago, so I am unusually sociable (by my own standards). He has ordered coffee which is taking forever to make. No-one else arrives, although I eventually spot Mr J motorcycling past – first in one direction, then back in the other direction. I explain to my new acquaintance that Mr J and I rarely arrive by the same mode of transport, then I increase my own order at the bar and we find seats at a table as it becomes apparent that the performers are still rehearsing upstairs.

I introduce Mr J to my new friend, and explain that this is the guy whose place I recently took on the Italy singing tour (am I mentioning Italy too often? Yes? I know. I will grow out of it.) Mr J knows that this new chum is a professional musician and was unable to go to Italy this year because he was singing in an actual Prom. So my claim is deliberately ludicrous (at least, I hope it is seen as such and not as ridiculously misplaced boasting) and we move on. As retribution for any perceived self-aggrandisement, my chair later collapses beneath me to great hilarity all round, our mutual friends having by now joined us to witness my unceremonious descent to table level. Fortunately no injuries are sustained and we proceed upstairs where my public transport pessimism is vindicated by the delayed start of the gig due largely to a 20-strong party of Little A’s friends being stuck on the underground.

Little A is eventually magnificent and her audience warmly, raucously and even rapturously squeal, whoop and applaud. Many are doubtless making a mental note for future reference that they were there at the start of her incredible career. Who knows, but it’s always good to be able to say completely genuinely to a performer’s parent, proud tears in their maternal eyes, that their offspring is truly remarkable. [Link to Little A’s EP on Spotify ] And 20 of the audience make a mental note never to trust public transport timings and take an earlier train – perhaps. They have collectively done wonders for the bar takings though. I think I had three ginger beers as well as my coffee. Others were most definitely less restrained.

Ginger beers and coffee may be restrained, but they must also be relieved, especially before a potentially lengthy public transport return to the safety of South West London. Facilities for such relief in this establishment are advertised as Unisex and to my slightly different form of relief my pre-train investigation reveals two private cubicles, one helpfully vacant. Naturally this is a part of life over which your intrepid blogger would normally draw a decency veil. However, it may be of passing (or ‘p*ssing’ – sorry) interest to report that the lighting in this cubicle ranged from none at all (careful setting of door lock to Engaged whilst propping handbag against its slight a-jarred-ness to allow a little light but prevent stranger ingress) to occasional manic strobe-effect bursts (resulting protective eye-closure rendering even greater inability to see). We are fortunate to have many inbuilt or learned life reflexes and I counted myself personally fortunate at this point also to be unimpaired by alcohol. Others were perhaps less fortunate on the alcohol front and as I avail myself of the rather better-lit washbasin facilities (for washing my hands! What were you thinking?) I conduct a bizarre conversation with my previously-unknown-to-me successor in the cubicle as to the optimum time to close the door in relation to rear-end location of loo-seat and related activities. Continuing ‘technical’ discussion through the now-almost-but-not-quite-closed door proves too much for my mounting hysteria – perhaps ginger beer has more of an effect than I realise – and I make a hasty retreat to say my goodbyes to performer and proud parents before dashing to the nearby Overground station.

Having suitably lowered the tone there, I will leave you as I continue to ponder my future.

Hmm – the immediate future involves BBC’s iPlayer and a packet of Maltesers – a cure for almost everything, I find – and I’ll return to the weightier issues tomorrow.

Follow one crying eye on