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.

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…


Friday 7 November 1986

…Today was Recorder Day at Burleigh Community College.
I was dead nervous meeting all those 15, 16, 17 and 18-year-olds.
But I soon got used to them.
We played some quite interesting pieces.
There were two jazzy pieces which were my favourites.
There were also some boring pieces that we didn’t manage very well.
It lasted from 9.30am to 5pm!
My fingers were tied in knots.
After that because I had survived we went down to the chippy to
get some chips which were very tasty.
Drew a picture of Big Ben for my project.
I thought it was quite good…

I’d been to one of these “Recorder Days” the previous year, which wasn’t that exceptional save for “the tower next to our building catching fire.”

This one was less combustible but more discomfiting.

For one thing I was more aware of the significance of where I was. Burleigh Community College was somewhere I knew I would eventually go to school. I would be one of those 15-year-olds that I felt dead nervous about meeting. They all looked so enormous and so confident. Everything about them seemed so impossibly remote. How was I to get from here to there?

More immediately disturbing was one of the teachers I met on this day 25 years ago. He was in charge of music at Burleigh, and he had the most hideous and unrelenting bad breath I had ever experienced. Even at the age of 10 I realised there was something wrong with this man’s character as to be so unaware of boasting such advanced halitosis.

I had no way of knowing that I and many of my peers would eventually end up sharing a classroom with this individual on a weekly basis for a number of years. If I had known, I might very well have swallowed my recorder and ended it all there and then.

Friday 10 October 1986

At lunchtime it was recorder practice so I gobbled and scoffed down my food…

I’d learned to play the recorder a year or so earlier.

Like everyone, I started on a soprano, but had recently moved on to a treble. I was pleasantly surprised to find I enjoyed the experience, but always had terrible trouble with the fingering.

And if anyone finds any sort of double meaning in that paragraph, consider me stunned*.

Next you’ll be saying there’s something funny about the word ‘semi-breve’.

*Besides, there’s only one sort of double meaning that I can see.

Friday 12 September 1986

…My Central letter came this morning…

And here it is:

Bwwahh, bwwahh, bwa-bwa-bwa-bwwahh
Despite getting my postcode completely wrong, I was pretty thrilled with this response.

To be honest, I’d have been pretty thrilled with any kind of response.

But what a great, thoughtful and detailed reply to my rather cheeky, insolent inquiry. Not only had I moaned at them for putting Superman II on too late, I’d then had the temerity to fish for a bit of future scheduling information.

I was handsomely rewarded on the latter, and as for the former, that looks to me like someone’s taken the trouble to offer a sincere explanation, rather than a patronising put-down.

Twenty-five years on, I’d like to say thank you to Ms Veronyca Bates.

By the by, today I got to play the school’s electronic keyboard in morning assembly. “I used the electric guitar sound,” apparently. My efforts to overthrow the centuries-long reign of the incumbent ivory-tinkler were gaining ground.