Therese, one part operatic soprano to five parts geriatrics nurse, took a sick day from nursing to do our shared recital. It was around the time last century when I had signed to Mrs Parksley's home care agency for house sitting work in Suffolk and I told Therese that she must sign up to the nursing side of the agency.
'The catchment is all bedridden erstwhile-debutantes from the pre-war era, Therese. You could make a killing.'
She missed the pun; and sighed.
'Iestyn, sparkly gratitude for putting that out into the universe for me. But I prefer my work in the National Health Sector. There's no merit in keeping one of those posh women that you're talking about ship shape. It has to be a ward full of the working class. I can always see a real difference within two days of me starting a new duty. Up and down taking them to the toilet all night? That stops. I just tell them: No second cup at Horlicks time! I have music scores to study, oldies.' She primped her shaggy perm. 'But we're not discussing my job, we're discussing our shared recital.'
'Singing's a job, Therese.'
'Job? job? Lift engineers have a 'job'. I have a spiritual calling. I put out into the universe what it is that I need to achieve. That puts me into a performing zone where inspiration comes from a higher plane. What people want from you onstage is a fabulous frock, gorgeous hair and passion. Then the standing ovations will just happen. And I can spend your time offstage relaxed and having a lifestyle. So, our Lauderdale House recital is not to be called a 'job', please.'
We planned to perform appropriate repertoire for an audience of agents and producers eked out with friends and family. According to their respective PAs all the agents and producers we approached were booked up right to the tube map at the back of the desk diary. And in the end I had just my mother's friends Denis and Philip out front.
'Just two for you,' Therese said in the interval. During an aria, she said, she had counted the gays. 'I have seventeen to your two. So, as we're splitting the takings after the hire, I think you should only sing two of the eight songs of your cycle in the second half. Or take a lesser percentage. Otherwise, I'll have to go to town on the encores.'
I went home with less than my tube fare' which was preferable to Therese singing "The Saga of Jenny", "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" and "I Feel Pretty".
In the bar afterward Philip, in jeans and a blazer, appeared pushing Dennis: fuchsia Polo shirt, khaki chinos and a rose madder cotton sweater.
'Iestyn, it's us, look!'
Dennis said, 'Oh, it did all bring back lovely memories before we go and have our usual two weeks in Broadstairs.' He almost gesticulated his white wine out of its glass. 'And as I managed to put too much into the kitty - still that same Ovaltine tin my mother had from just after the war, because I know you always need to be told these things - we bought our tickets tonight with what amounts to free money. Oh, yes, Mrs Vowles paid in full, the bus up here to listen all proud to you, sneaky Babycham at half time.'
With my voice low, I began, 'Talking of which...' and told them about Therese counting the gays.
'I beg her benighted pardon? I was going to go and tell her how much I liked her. I shan't now. The cheek. Oh, no, not telling her - are we, Den? - no, how I got into the opera through Martin. You know, him I refer to as my recruitment officer to the cause? Used to play Kirsten Flagstad on this old Achiphon gramophone in his flat off the Seven Sisters Road.'
'Otherwise known as Camp HQ,' Dennis put in. 'And, Phil, let's you remember what the doctor said about your hypertension and not overexcite ourselves.'
Philip flapped at him with his free hand.
'Martin used to call the Achiphon the 'Achi' when he'd had enough gin to fill a cow birthing bucket, Iestyn. And he'd broken the loading pissed so he had to have a clothes peg on it to make it work.' He gulped at his wine. 'Anyway, someone should tell her: it's not the quantity of your gays that counts, it's the quality. I mean, look at hers. Strident grooming. And you can tell their sex lives is all up front and overly open. They'll never have known the subtle frisson of a rush hour fumble on the District Line. Oh, no. Deflowered in some acceptance-obsessed hippy commune by someone of the same age. Not like a proper gay groomed in fear of the law by someone at least twice their age and IQ. Or, best of all, as happened to Martin, by a G.I. in the war.' He was raising his voice now for Therese and her gays to hear. 'Oh, yes, you may have got away with the pink pounds tonight, dear, but I was brought to my love of opera by someone steeped in queeneriana; got first hand just why everyone loved it when the Americans got into the war. G.I.'s. All you could ever need in the way of your chocolate, your chewing gum, your nylons. And in the doorway of Hatchards, PIccadilly, in the blackout they came into their own! So go back to your sad little room with your gays' grabbings in your purse and just see how far it gets you.'
When the outraged susurrations had stopped across the bar, Dennis, looking down at the carpet, said,
'Philip, remind me when we get home to ring Mrs Vowles in Broadstairs and tell her that after all we shall be requiring just that one flat pillow for your side of the bed...'