Friday 18 December 1987

…Just one week left till Christmas.
And of course, I can hardly wait.
But we don’t finish school until next Tuesday, which is a bit unfair.
Also we have a whole week off after the week which has New Year’s Day in it,
which just seems ridiculous.
There were carols in this morning’s assembly for the first years.
I got to play a keyboard as the accompaniment.
And then I treated myself to chips, sausages and baked beans for lunch,
followed by a glass of milk and a ginger biscuit…

It was round about now that I began to get quite involved in doing music stuff at school. Not just what everyone had to do in music lessons, but additional things. Playing in assemblies. Taking part in school productions. And eventually writing and performing my own stuff.

I was never quite sure what my peers thought of all this. Ghastly showboating? Self-indulgent twaddle? Or just utter disinterest? Out of those three I’d rather it’d been the latter.

Still, along the way I got to turn the Beatles’ Nowhere Man into a chorale for four-part harmony; perform an avant-garde “happening” wherein I fixed a microphone inside a kettle, boiled it, and served tea to an audience; and organise a three-hour outdoor acoustic gig boasting covers of songs by, among others, The Smiths, Tori Amos, Otis Redding and (oops) The Lemonheads.

So I guess it wasn’t all bad.

Tuesday 1 December 1987

…Today was a terrible day.
It was my grade 4 piano exam and it was terribly nerve-wracking.
But I hope, at least I think, it went all right.
I had to sign in and out of school, which was a bit silly as I had to sign out at
9am, having only arrived half an hour or so before.
I signed back in at 9.56am.
I’m really just glad it’s over, because it was now allows me to, as it were,
step into Christmas.
In fact, we discussed our Christmas play in class this morning,
which I am directing…

Looking ahead in my diary, I see that this “play”, such as it was, got one performance in an assembly, and that was it.

Not only was I the director, I was also the writer. It was a loose, free-form kind of play, which ended with everyone being blown up.

I don’t think it had anything to do with Christmas whatsoever.

Nonetheless the rehearsals were quite good fun, and I think it helped ingratiate me with the rest of the class.

As for my piano exam, it is typical of me to dwell more on the time I spent away from school than the contents of the exam itself. The former was something I could be sure of, unlike the latter.

Saturday 28 November 1987

…I wish my piano exam would hurry up and be over.
Some really good programmes are starting on the TV soon, including a new series of Yes, Prime Minister, and I won’t be able to enjoy them until the exam has passed away.
I’m also waiting to put up my Christmas decorations but won’t do that until
the exam is over…

This was my grade 4 piano exam, and like last year I had to do it at the local convent. But first I had to have a dry run, and so paid a visit to this establishment today, a Saturday, to try out the piano.

I always hated doing this, even more than the exam itself. For one thing I felt uneasy being in a girls’ school. Second, it was a RELIGIOUS girls’ school. And third, there were pupils having lessons on a Saturday. It all seemed shifty and wrong.

Plus the air inside the building smelled of two of the worst things in the world: incense and skulduggery.

Is it any wonder I pined for the well-crafted hoo-ha of Hacker and Sir Humphrey?

Thursday 5 March 1987

…With regards to yesterday’s list:
1. After a strenuous time of moving rocks and using a gardening implement called
a rake [I’m being facetious] we soon had everything tidy again.
Then the rain soaked everything this afternoon, but it didn’t matter, it didn’t get so muddy as yesterday.
2. How could a medical ever be right at 10am? I was dragged screaming into the room. She checked height, weight, hearing – I told her about my ears – sight, speech, hands, hair, feet, and shoulders.
Yes, I had to take all my clothes off except my underwear.
IT WAS DEAD EMBARRASSING.
3. Games was as usual boring. In the rain. Cold. But at least it’s over.
4. After all my word training, there weren’t any words in my theory exam at all. I think I did it all right.
After the exam I had to stand out in the rain for about 15 minutes waiting for mum to arrive…

I’m not entirely sure what I mean when I refer to “word training”. It was a music exam, so perhaps it was to do with supplying the meaning of terms like allegro and rallentando. Anyway, it didn’t matter because whatever it was didn’t turn up in the exam paper*.

I’ve asked this before, but do school medicals still require you to parade near-naked in front of a stranger in a deserted room? Not that anybody reading this is likely (or indeed ought) to know.

Having survived this traumatic day, I celebrating along with Anneka Rice when she successfully completed tonight’s Treasure Hunt in Wiltshire. Look, there was even a Bonus Clue!

*Surely one of the nicest experiences life can ever deliver.

Sunday 15 February 1987

…After I finished tidying my desk I went downstairs to start a recording session.
I taped myself singing All-Time High.
It sounded stupid.
Then I played it on the piano.
It sounded weird…

Still irked by the absence of the theme from Octopussy on my favourite Christmas present, and being now in possession of a James Bond songbook, I resorted to committing the tune to tape by myself.

The results were shocking. All-Time High is pitched, counter-intuitively, in a rather low key. (Here’s Rita Coolidge with a very greasy face bellowing her way through the song in 1983.) But even though this was back when I was still blessed with the pipes of a boy soprano, I had trouble picking out all the right notes. I blame having a gammy ear.

My misguided oral acrobatics were only slightly bettered by my subsequent instrumental version, which proved trickier than I thought thanks to the song being written in the key of A flat.

This meant having to wrap my fingers around slightly more black notes than was comfortable for someone who’d only done their grade 3 piano exam two months ago. Plus the opening saxophone solo didn’t work being bashed out on a keyboard instead of being breathed seductively down a horn.

I’d taken the sensible decision to forbid the rest of the family from coming anywhere near the living room while all of this nonsense was going on. I now took the equally sensible decision to wipe the results before anyone in the world, including me, could hear it again.

But that wasn’t the end of the day’s excitement. It continued into the evening when, according to my diary, the whole family gathered to “watch the title sequence of Antiques Roadshow”.

Monday 15 December 1986

…This afternoon we had to write a poem about “what Christmas means to me”
and what’s more you could only have two words on each line.
I got my piano exam result.
114 out of 150.
Stupid…

It wasn’t, but I’d been engaging in what psephologists like to call expectation management, as per the Liberal Democrats at this week’s by-election.

You had to get 100 to pass. Deep down I’d thought – I’d hoped – I wouldn’t get anything below this, but I’d been startled by the extent to which I’d slipped up, especially since I’d managed quite high scores in the previous two examinations.

To adopt a rather haughty tone*, as would be the case eight years later when it took me four attempts to pass my driving test, I think I needed reminding of the point of needing to try hard at stuff and, if necessary, try and try again.

As for what I’d had to play in the exam, it certainly didn’t feature anything by Joni Mitchell. I am STAGGERED that this is now on the syllabus. The closest I ever came to contemporary music in any of my piano exams was George Gershwin.

*Just for a change.

Friday 5 December 1986

…Today has been one of the most worst days of my life.
I had to have my Grade 3 piano exam.
Dad collected me from school at 12pm and drove me to the convent.
As luck would have it, it was pouring with rain.
My exam wasn’t until 12.28pm so I waited in the Needlework Room.
I will certainly not get a Distinction, possibly not a Merit, because
I was hopeless in the exam room.
My pieces turned out rubbish.
I got my aurals wrong.
I lost count on the sight-reading.
As for my scales, well, we won’t talk about them.
Later on in Art we made paper hats.
I failed miserably.
I also had a catastrophe with tissue paper on the stairs.
The less said about that the better…

*Sob*