Why Me Words: 1,193
If you can't think of anything nice to say, then don't say anything at all. Which is why, when I yank open the side-door the village hall, and spot the one empty chair next to Martin, I smile tightly and take my place. I'm two minutes late and it's all I deserve.
Martin is retired and a widower of about 65. A seasoned veteran of past singing groups, he has a somewhat moonlike face above a rounded body, wears comfortable sweaters and slacks and owlish glasses of the type he probably wore as a boy. He reads music, which puts him at a distinct advantage in terms of the other tenors, is chatty, well-meaning and enthusiastic. Just recently, I have begun to find him slightly irritating.
The morning has not started well. After five days of toil, I wake up to grey skies and teeming rain. There are no coffee pods left in the jar, but several empty shell cases litter the reservoir and there are dirty mugs on the kitchen table. I am forced to drink Earl Grey, which is not my breakfast beverage, and while waiting for it to brew, turn on the tv to watch a film I recorded last night. To my intense annoyance, “Ice Station Zebra” has been cut just as Rock Hudson dives beneath the icecap, as it has "clashed" with an extremely violent South Korean film, presumably recorded by the same culprit who selfishly took all the coffee pods.
Due to faffing around re-recording, and standing in my pyjamas under an umbrella in the garden encouraging the dog to get on and pee, I have to leg it to Saturday Singing Group, or, my very own "me-time". At least the Village Hall is warm. Alan, our Musical Director, who is Head of Music at Birmingham University every other day of the week, stands up and calls for silence.
"Right, chaps, we'll start with a warm-up. It's a small Latin chant, which some of you may know from previous choir experience." He begins to sing it to us in a professional, encouraging voice and everyone looks blank - everyone, that is, apart from Martin, who pom-poms along, just loud enough, and just a little faster than Alan, so that we can all appreciate his familiarity with the chant, at the same time distracting me from listening at all. At the end, Martin looks around the room, beaming, and winks at Alan. Who doesn't notice. But this is the low-hanging fruit of his niggling behavioural problems.
Alan now flicks a few pieces of sheet music. Waving his elegant hands expansively, he enquires: "what would everyone like to rehearse this morning, Vivaldi's Gloria, or the Beatles "When I"m 64" perhaps”? I open my mouth to plead for "Gloria". if I can't have a decent Columbian coffee, I can at least wake myself up with this soaring eighteenth century composition, written for full orchestra and to fourth century words of prayer. I adore Vivaldi's piece, the excitement and anticipation rising as we wait to come in with that first "Gloria!" even though our electric Yamaha doesn't have quite the same impact as that of the massed ranks of the University of Texas Symphony Orchestra on Youtube.
Most people want the Beatles, so we kick off with that. I do get it, the catchy cheeky-chappie lyrics appeal to many of the group, who remember that era with nostalgia, even though the ironic fact is, that about half of us saw 64 and any hair at all, some time ago. However, the 'bottle of wine' resonates with most in our village (see Alan’s "Guide to French Wines" Club, Thursday night in this very room.) The South Bourton Occasional Singers are becoming popular. I am aware for the first time that our numbers have swelled, and as such, we're cramped.
Most of us hold our A4 music sheets in front of us and flip them over with each new song. Martin has a ringbinder with each music sheet neatly encased in clear plastic sleeves. He is incapable of turning his head left or right to read the score but instead moves the entire doublespread ringbinder, so that when he's singing the lefthand page, the sharp righthand corners of the binder jab into my left arm, and then for the righthand page, David from the Barnhouse gets prodded. I subtly try to resist the force, and he looks at me indignantly as if I'm taking up his personal space. Eventually, we get round to "Gloria" and for the first time today, I genuinely feel happy and uplifted, even if Martin sings a variation of our Tenor part, just off the beat. The man cannot resist his own bunting.
During the ten minute break, behind the Chocolate Digestives, Carina and I are enjoying a bitching session. "I swear to God, Becky's flat" she grumbles, “and it's affecting all the Sopranos. She should go down to the Altos, she'd be much more comfortable there, but she won't. It's because she fell out with Gillian over the secondhand books at the Fete (remember that scenario), and she can barely stand the sight of her face”. I'm commiserating when Martin beetles over. I must be more generous, I think, and offer him a biscuit. He accepts happily and for a minute or two, we all exchange pleasantries.
Then he starts:
"I could hear you were having a bit of trouble in the Vivaldi" he chortled, pointing a shard of his Digestive at my throat. Dignified, I reply easily: "Oh, I don't know about that, Martin. I rather felt that I'd finally cracked it this week." He nods sagely: "I agree with you, you've really come on since you first started", breaks off to slurp his coffee, then: " What was it the Great Man said about playing all the right notes, just not necessarily in the right order? Ha, ha, you must remember, it was one of the Two Ronnies, or -"
Martin pauses dramatically, whips round and turns back: "Come on, we can't just stand around gossiping, back to the coalface!" And charges back to his seat.
I sourly notice David has now managed to escape Martin's lefthand side and swapped with an innocent looking newcomer. I'm not so lucky. I squeeze into my place, and elbow Martin's ringbinder out of my chest. Carina smirks at me as we start to sing "You Raise Me Up". We're halfway through the second verse when Martin's finger which has been scrolling and prodding his score, goes up to his mouth, is swiped with saliva, and brought down again to turn my page for me! Just as I was about to turn it myself. I snatch my score away, and shoot him a furious look. He recoils blinking, hurt, behind his glasses, and turns his shoulder away from me in a I-was-only-trying-to-be-helpful kind of way. I am seething and depressed. This is exactly what I meant when I said to the Tribunal that sometimes it really is everybody else, and not just me.
I wrote this for a laugh after listening to someone in my family moaning on - they had the grace to laugh after they read it!