Thursday, 17 December 2015

Call the Vatican...the Soprano's had Satay!

  I was thinking of applying to be on First Dates. I've never been on a date. I met the one (married) man I had an affair with at work and since we split up I've been single. I like to imagine that's because I'm not quite emotionally crippled enough to need to be in a relationship. 
  I also like to imagine I'm ripped, that my hair's all still with us and I own more than three pairs of shoes. 
  There was Barney, I suppose. I turned his head one summer in Aldeburgh singing my floaty Fs. Once he started asking me to sing I was dredging up all the old songs my dad used to sing to me. "Fly Home Little Heart", "Kathleen", "The Last Rose of Summer". All first heard as lullabies. And sometimes I was singing them to Barney as lullabies; though he would have first heard "Kathleen" full of Fuller's Reserve Oak Stout and Reecheenvi Extra Kesling, whereas I first heard it full of Farley's reduced sugar rusks and recently expressed breast milk.
  I first met Barney at Lady Carter's house in Aldeburgh. I had recently performed my one-man show at the Jubilee Hall and given the box office takings to the Britten Pears School bursary fund. Barney's family, shipping, donated a bursary annually. I noticed the suit first. Prince of Wales check, he told me. Hair like black thatch. Eyes the blue of the horizon. He looked at me too steadily while we were talking and I was reminded of my farmer mate Nathaniel's reworking of an old adage. Dogs think humans are wonderful because they feed them.  Cats think humans are a load of shit. But a black bellied pig will look you right in the eye.
  After dinner all the classical singers on the advanced musical courses managed to get themselves asked to sing. The Kentish coloratura soprano, Irish mezzo and inevitable Greek bass. Then Lady Carter asked me to sing "Miss Otis Regrets".  
  'It's in my will that he's to sing this at my funeral!'
  After I'd sung Barney clarified that I couldn't be given his family's bursary, right?
  'No, I'm just a looker-on, Barney. Not officially taking part in the advanced vocal courses.'
  'Pity. I would have thrown in some extra to cover your bar tab at the Cross Keyes, naturally.  I noticed during dinner that you enjoyed your wine.  Definitely enjoyed your wine. And you ate dinner. You didn't sit like that girl singer refusing just about everything at table, talking about the damage whatever it was would do to your gut, or your bowel or cystic duct. How the fuck can you have satay by accident and end up in anaphylactic shock while everyone runs round in a panic looking for a defibrillator, then a bic biro for a tracheotomy and, when all else fails, phones the Vatican for an exorcist?'
  'By being a soprano.'
  'And while you were singing you didn't seem to have a point to make. Or wave your arms around like you were putting sheep through the dip. And you weren't too loud.  I overheard some of the knowledgeable people here saying that sometimes you had to really listen for your voice.'
  I said, 'God preserve us from the knowledgeable.Wearing patchouli and sweaty linen In the front row of concerts, with the music score open in front of them following your line with a special pen-pointery thing. And full of those helpful anecdotes for when you're a bit under par. About how Maria Malibran tried to bring herself round from an afternoon fainting fit with smelling salts, missed her nose, gave herself third degree burns on her upper lip. And then cut the blisters off with her embroidery scissors because they were impeding her jaw opening fully for top notes. Or Kathleen Ferrier carrying on singing when cancer fractured her femur onstage. Or the time the knife didn't retract in Tosca and the Scarpia carried on with a lung puncture. And the knowledgeable never say anything about your own performance other than that you had quite a nice little stab at whatever it was you were singing.'
  An elderly man in a tweed jacket and red sailing trousers, with a recent shaving cut on his bald head, had been weaving about smiling just in my peripheral vision.  He came and stood next to Barney and said what a clear voice I had.
  And excellent diction. 'Do you sing any Benjamin Britten?' He didn't give me a chance to reply. 'Because you see I have quite the connection with Benjamin Britten. My mama rather discovered him. She would sit on the sea wall outside his house on Cragpath - and listen - and tell anyone who cared to hear that they should take note. It may have all been sounding like the metallic wheezing and rush of air you get opening the door of a smoke house but one day that music was going to be played elsewhere, not just in Aldeburgh. Oh, yes!'
  'But Britten moved to Crag Path in the late forties,' I said. 
  'Yes, that's right. That's when my mama would have been down there listening...'
  'But by then he'd already written the Ceremony of Carols, Peter Grimes, the Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, the Sinfonia da Requiem.  He was already well into the stage of being played elsewhere.'
  'Oh, no, I really don't think you have that right. Mama was one of the very first on to what a real talent he was. Anyway...'
  He was off.
  Barney was smirking. 'You do realise he dines out on that story? was that about God preserving us from the knowledgeable?' 


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