Monday, 14 December 2009

Night of the Garter

Watching Offenbach's La Vie Parisienne on French TV the other night I became quite nostalgic over my days playing in pit orchestras. It was during a performance of La Vie Parisienne (playing the 2nd bassoon part on 'cello) in Scotland that I probably reached the very pinnacle of my musical career.

At the end everything becomes very animated with can-can dancers. Experience of this in the pit can be varied. If you're playing horn or trombone, they've probably put you right underneath the stage apron, and all you're conscious of is elephantine thumpings above your head, with each thump accompanied by showers of dust.

If you're playing violin, well to the front of the pit, the choice between appreciating the view immediately above you and keeping your eye on your music must be agonising. As it happens, the 2nd bassoon can-can part is so simple that it can be played effectively from memory, allowing the player to look about him/her and take in the whole frenetic ambience. I was lucky enough to be placed well forward.

On the last night of the run the famous can-can finished with the dancers ripping off their frilly garters and throwing them into the audience. Girls sometimes have problems throwing things any distance, and one short-trajectoried garter ended up on the end of my 'cello bow. I have to say at this point that it brought no privileges or benefits whatever, and I never discovered whose garter it was. But such an unusual trophy had to be kept, so it went into my special drawer and stayed there for many years.

When we moved house five years ago I emptied my special drawer into a bin-liner - we were only moving about 200 metres, so packing was fairly low-key - and into the black plastic bag went the frilly garter along with other treasured needments like a fossilised shark's tooth, some Spanish after-shave, a bird-warbler (put a little water into a bird-shaped container and blow gently down its hollow 'tail'), a lock of raven hair, a lucky Victorian penny, my favourite nail-scissors and so on. Then there was the Jolly Jumping Pecker, a wind-up penis that staggered fitfully about the floor, a prize I won at the Christmas do of the RAF band I played with for a time. All men should have a special drawer to keep such mementoes of halcyon moments in, wayside shrines filled with votive offerings to life's little triumphs and the winning hand fate occasionally deals. (Although at the time there were murmurings across the breakfast table about essentially frivolous natures, feet of clay, what would the neighbours/Board of Governors think, have you no sense of dignity?, capering's like a disease with you, etc., etc.)

There was also a pack of some pills called Wind-Eze, which I bought once simply for the name and the diverting possibility of passing the pack round, straight-faced, towards the end of any formal dinner parties we might be invited to.

It was a great mistake to put these treasures into a bin-liner. They were never seen again. As regards the Wind-Eze and the Jolly Jumping Pecker, probably just as well.

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