Tuesday, December 13, 2011


I used to play the violin.

And when I tell you that I used to play the violin, I mean I could still play the violin now, if I had a violin.

And a bow.

If I had a violin and bow right now I could make that violin make a noise. Without a bow I could pluck it, or even strum it, but in order to play it 'properly' I would need a bow. And possibly some resin. In the past I could have played it 'properly'. I used to be able to make a violin make a recognisable noise. Sounds, if you will. In the past I could make it 'sing' like a bird. All lilting and harmless and, dare I say, beautiful. Right now I could probably make it sing like someone who didn't want to do bird. All whiny and anxious and, dare I say, shit.

Because that was thirty years ago.

I had violin lessons at junior school. I must ask my Mum, "Why?", one day. It wasn't as if the school had an orchestra. Do you know what I mean?

I mean I could understand it if the school had an orchestra. When I went to secondary school I learned to play the French horn. At least, for a while. The school wrote to my parents suggesting that I was showing an aptitude for music, and that my specific musical skills - so far as they could tell - might lend themselves to me being a successful French horn player (is there any other kind?). Nothing to do with the fact that the school orchestra was running a bit low on numbers in this particular role. I'm not sure exactly what skills I was demonstrating at this juncture, other than "being able to carry a ludicrously shaped musical instrument on and off a coach twice a week in a ludicrously shaped case".

My shins have never been the same since.

Now I can imagine that just being a junior school teacher isn't necessarily enough for most if not some junior school teachers. In exactly the same way as someone who works in an office probably doesn't need to buy another manilla envelope ever again, even the apparent vocational nature of teaching would dictate that there have to be some perks. I've come to realise - in hindsight - that I accidentally witnessed one of these.

My violin lessons used to take place in the school staff room. I've no idea why. It was a small school and had a commensurate staff room. It always felt strangely voyeuristic being in there. Being somewhere only adults should be or have been, when you're less than ten years old, can make you feel vaguely pompous. But my bubble was well and truly burst one day when I glanced up at the wall during one of my violin lessons. Because there, on light green A3 cartridge paper, was the following:

Quote of the Week

"The planes raced off along the wrong way."

I wrote that once.

It's amazing the things you remember. I remember playing football in 1986 like it wasn't 25 years ago.

I remember the name of the team we were playing, and our team losing the game 4-3. I remember the three goals I scored, and I remember, before then, seeing Birmingham versus Nottingham Forest, and the same result. I remember Ian Wallace scoring a hat-trick and ending up on the losing side, and I remember how I imagine he must have felt. I remember half-time in our game. Distinctly. One of the lads - I remember his name - had a new watch. The watch had a stopwatch. And with that stopwatch he had calculated that the centre-back for the opposition was spitting, on average, every 27 seconds. Now I don't want to have to remember this. But it seems like it's one of my go-to memories. One of those things that no matter how long I live, I'll never forget. I might forget birthdays and anniversaries and car tax and car keys, but I'll never forget Richard Coombes. As much as I might want to try to forget - and it's equally and utterly amazing the things you forget - I never will. And when I'm old and senile and I'm clinging onto the very last true memories I have, I'll recall the tale of the spitting boy, and you can imagine the reaction I might get.

I started writing this piece in May 2011 and had nearly finished it at the start of October. Unfortunately I was admitted to hospital on the 19th of October and not discharged until the 18th of November.

The truth is that I don't quite remember where it was going.

I'll be back again sooner.