Interlude / A Recital / Sarah Harrington

From the Buzzcocks live to European Outsider Art Conferences to Music from Another Kitchen and the refined world of the music recital. Sarah Harrington writes.


A Recital

Seventeen years of Baptist sermons will give one a real appreciation for the backs of heads. I was an anthropologist in training – still am – I was not involved but I was there. Behaving oneself is key; we are taught to sit still, don’t whisper, don’t fidget. And so I sit, and practise rolling my eyes left and right as far in their sockets as possible without causing tissue damage. I am not really there after all, and to not really be there requires invisibility; that separation is held tight to me. I watched.

A friend suggested the music recital as a good people-watching opportunity, a chance to add to a catalogue of characters. A new environment and one I could shoehorn into the next appropriate fiction. The bastard always knows how to convince me. So I go, without hesitation, why waste a good evening not actively trying to better myself? Plus I had a feeling there would be wine.  

It has become increasingly pleasing to walk into a room and be, incontrovertibly, the youngest people there. Let me get back to the backs of heads; I have favourite shapes – naturally – and by far it is that of an old man head, built to be that of a schoolboy’s. The head gets wider as it reaches its summit, like an orb being sucked down a plug-hole. There is a full, thin, head of wavy cropped hair. Possibly the very style it was seventy years ago. The bigger the ears the better. Later I was bitterly disappointment by his face which was blotched and did not contain any of the wide eyed charm it had in my mind. Nevertheless, unlike his neighbour, his head did not bob along with relieved recognition, though it did bob once or twice into dreams that were masterfully disguised as concentration.

The hair of the old lady in the row ahead was a source of great self-questioning. Will I ever be able to whisk the course white hair of my older years into the layer upon layer candy floss effect and clamp it down in the precise middle with an Alice band (with not even a hint of self-questioning)? More to the point, will I ever want to? A silly question as I’ll certainly never marry well enough to justify such a classic, quilted jacket, silk head scarf taste in fashion. My palette is far too corduroy. She sat with no more than sixty per cent of her rump on her chair for almost half of the recital. I must also add that this lady was miniature, no full grown adult could possibly have been so slight her entire life; it’s simply not sustainable. Nonetheless I wrote her off an ex-piano teacher, from her giddy enthusiasm even the piano teacher of one of the performers. But more likely just a lovely old lady that likes classical music, in a big way.    

The mothers were not difficult to spot, as they rarely are. For one thing, no human can smile with that much genuine enthusiasm for such extended periods of time without pride in their offspring or illicit drugs. One mother I could see better than the other, mother number two was masked somewhat by some enormous hair in the foreground. But clear-line-of-vision mother had fantastic gums, if there’s nothing else to be said for the woman, her dental hygiene is top-notch.

And so it ends, with an ever-so cheeky tease of the inevitable encore that almost all of the audience was too polite to insist upon. Therein lay the mass exodus to a glass café – a gallery café mind you, tasteful is the word we’re all looking for. Somehow a number of ladies who were always clearly in charge of something or other in the evenings events have finally revealed the grounds for the head nods and largely ineffective lip-reading. With the stealth and agility of ninjas these women had managed to leave the recital room without being seen and with ample time to share around a quick spritz of something musky. And there they were holding silver trays of some of their more risky combinations. Delia had done the vast majority of them proud; and there they were at your elbow at every given opportunity, choreographed right down to how many bore platters at a time with (and it’s got to be said) impeccable posture.

I stand, conscious to hold the wine glass by the stem not the bowl (stem not bowl, stem not bowl until muscle memory will kick in, hopefully) and I think of my grandparents who couldn’t be less like any of these people. I think of my parents in their comedy sized doll’s house in Croydon working day shifts and night shifts and the late night essay writing and the reusable nappies and sitting on the kitchen floor watching the twin tub and the boot fairs and the home-cut hair. And here I am, being introduced as a writer to some of the most skilled creatives in the city. And my parents smile with me.


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