Monday, 8 March 2010

For Kaz and Sarah. (Vicus is excused.)



I met her first when we were students in London. I was a second year, she was a fresher. I and the producer were casting The Gondoliers, which I was due to conduct in a few months' time. She said she thought she was a soprano. She wanted to audition for a solo part. She was lovely, rather than gorgeous: dark hair, sculpted figure, about my height (i.e. not enormous), trim and neat, delectable in every way. She was indeed a soprano. She had a beautiful voice, pure rather than powerful, perfectly in tune, well modulated, velvety in the lower register and maybe a little thin at the top of her range. She was a find. I fell in love with her before I even knew her name: Alison.

I kept my feelings to myself. There could be no hint of the casting couch, especially as she landed the plum solo part of Gianetta. She felt a bit uncertain: she'd really wanted a smaller part, Fiametta or Vittoria.

As rehearsals progressed she responded well to encouragement. The plot of The Gondoliers requires Gianetta and her mate Tessa to form a quartet, two couples, with two gondoliers, respectively Marco and Giuseppe. Alison really enjoyed working in quartet. Every note she sang pierced my heart yet deeper. I said nothing. Like the Spartan boy in the legend, the fox bit deep into my vitals, but I suffered in silence. It hurt to watch Marco take her in her arms, where I had hardly touched her. From the podium it was painful to watch him kiss her, where I had never kissed. These agonies were abated a little by knowing that off-stage Marco was going out with Tessa, a gorgeous petite redhead from Cumbria, and Giuseppe was already spoken for elsewhere. I longed for the last performance. When it was all over I could tell all.

But over the months of rehearsal affections and affiliations shifted. Rumours snaked through the cast. Marco was two-timing. It wasn't all his fault, the kindly ones said: Alison had come to depend on him. Too demure to flirt or throw herself at him, nevertheless she found herself increasingly attached to him. You can guess the outcome. After the run of three or four performances Alison and Marco were a steady couple, as long as Tessa, who came from another college, wasn't about. I was out in the cold.

We stayed good friends, as we always had been. We went out once or twice, nothing much. She sang under my baton in the following year's opera, Die Fledermaus, but in the chorus. I was encouraged when one summer holidays Marco came to stay in my cottage in Scotland with . . . Tessa. (When they left Tessa gave me a weigela. I planted it in front of the sitting-room window. It's still there, goodness knows how many years after. Tessa died very young. That weigela is her memorial, as though it's living the full span she ought to have lived.)

At the time of my finals I started looking for a teaching job. I didn't mind where. Alison said her father, a Southampton headmaster, was looking for staff. My heart leapt: if her father took me on, the link with Alison wouldn't be broken. I went for interview and was taken on. When I found out that snake-in-the-grass Marco had slithered off in search of other prey, it seemed that at last Fortune had smiled.

There was a serious miscalculation, though. Alison had two years of further study. While I was working in Southampton, seeing her eyes in her father's (not really to be recommended, staring fixedly into the eyes of your boss in the hope of a vision of his daughter) she would be in distant London. While she was in Southampton for the holidays, I would be in even farther-flung Scotland. There was an overlap in September, however. We saw quite a lot of each other in those few golden weeks. There had never been the slightest diminution in my feeling for her. Shortly before she was due to start her new term, we met in the Civic Centre rose garden. The words wouldn't come: Suppose we?...Could I?...What if?... Would she?... How about?...Do you think we?...

She knew what I was trying to say. No, she said. I'm sorry. I can't.

Is there someone else? Marco? I asked.

She nodded.

I never saw her again. If she ever married I never heard of it. Via her father, she gave us a wooden bowl as a wedding present when I got married, first time round, three years later. I still have it.

I dug out the dress rehearsal photo, above, from the archive. Most of the cast mentioned above are in it somewhere. The pair of shoes (extreme right) belong to the Duchess of Plazatoro, who has just passed out. You'll recognise the conductor, of course.

25 comments:

Sarah said...

*Jumps up and down shouting.....Noooo*

I can't believe you let her walk away......

Great story, rubbish ending!

Dave said...

I met someone called Alison last week. Dark hair, about my height etc.

Watch this space.

KAZ said...

Wonderful - my nosiness was rewarded with this lovely story.
Alison will never know what she missed - and I don't like the sound of that Marco at all.

Vicus Scurra said...

Excused? What did I do? I don't remember anyone called Alison.

It wasn't me.

Christopher said...

I'm sorry, Sarah. It couldn't be otherwise. This blog has the strictest regard for truth, as you know.

Dave: Deep sighs here. I wish you every joy of your new 'acquaintance', but I must beg you not to have too many preconceived ideas about her. I have to confess that 'Alison' was an invented name to cover her real identity. As you know, this blog does not bandy the name of women about indiscriminately.

Kaz: Thank you. Marco came from Farnworth. I don't know if this is significant?

Vicus: 'Aliason' is no more than an alias, cf. comment addressed to Dave. Although in your time you were no doubt for gallantry noted, to beauty devoted since you were short-coated, it was all a very long time ago now so I shouldn't worry about it.

Dave said...

Not sure why 'acquaintance' needed to be in inverted commas; this is a new young lady (who may, or may not, be called Alison) I have met, with whom I am on speaking terms but hardly friendship yet.

Acquaintance actually sums up the relationship precisely.

Anyway, as I'm now feeling slightly recovered from my illness, I find I'm able to rise early in the morning, and then, in my workaday attire, I can embark without delay on the duties of the day.

Surely this will achieve something?

Christopher said...

Inverted commas? Only because 'Alison' - a pseudonym - had them.

Achieve something? It's bound to: at the end of the day, when you'll no doubt be going to bed quite late, say at half past twelve or one, with a pleasure that's emphatic you'll retire to your attic with the gratifying feeling that your duty has been done.

Any idea what 'Shalloo humps!' and 'Shalloo hoops'' are?

Dave said...

I believe they are parodies of parade ground shouts of command.

Christopher said...

Yes, I've just looked it up too - it refers to drill-sergeants' arguments as to whether 'shalloo humps' or 'shalloo hoops' can be shouted louder and more percussively in place of 'shoulder arms'. I've wondered about that ever since the events described in this post.

Dave said...

In those days, of course, you didn't have Mr Google to enlighten you.

zIggI said...

*sniff*
that is such a sweet story.

I will never trust anyone from Farnworth (where is it actually?) again!

'Married the first time' ? Is this another story we should know? You do put it all so well!

Christopher said...

No indeed, Dave. We just had Arthur Mee and Mrs Britannica. And Wisden.

Thank you, Zigs. I understand Farnworth is NE of Manchester, but Kaz will know. I don't know about more Mills and Boon rose garden sagas. I don't have your very healthy gift for sardonic throwaway candour. I'll see.

I, Like The View said...

the greater loves are often those that got away. . .

. . .they are like magicians who don't reveal how their tricks work - so one supposes that magic does exist after all

KAZ said...

Farnworth is near Bolton. It's an insignificant little place that nobody goes to on purpose.

Christopher said...

I: This is a very generous thought. It's certainly more than comforting sometimes to think so. But how can we know? And how can we objectively slough off those present circumstances (none in my case) which cause us to look back, hoping to recapture that pure unconditional love (larded with a goodly dose of lust, but there's nothing wrong with that) that we thought yoked us unshakeably to the beloved? Memory is a fickle brute.

Kaz: That settles it. I'm not going there.

Sarah said...

Harsh words !

Christopher said...

Super new hammock image, Sarah, but you aren't wearing...

...purple...

are you?

Sarah said...

LOL indeed!

Christopher said...

Oh goodness, what are we in for now? Don't you think it's all grossly premature?

When I am (I'm not saying it)
I shall wear purple - -
With a red hat which doesn't go,
and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension
on brandy and summer gloves and satin sandals,
And say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
and gobble up samples in shops
and press alarm bells
and run with my stick along public railings,
and make up for the sobriety
(Hem, hem) of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
and pick flowers in other people's gardens
and learn to spit!
...But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me
are not too shocked and surprised
when suddenly I am ***,
And start to wear purple!

I, Like The View said...

"how can we know. . ." you ask Christopher. . .

that's the whole point of the conjurer's skill. . . we can't (can't know)

and when has objectivity even been a concern of love!

in our hearts, we know there is no such thing as "pure unconditional love" (especially where lust may be present) - only one which has not had the opportunity to reach the stage in which it passes into a more solid, less effervescent, emotional state

memory may be a fickle brute, isn't that the beauty of the mind

(experience is worse than memory, imho)

Christopher said...

Oh yes, I do agree about the conjurer - El Amor Brujo and all that.

I shouldn't have written 'objective' when what I really meant was 'detached'. This was after all a passionate but rather one-sided, inconclusive affair. At the time I daresay there was a lot of anger and jealousy which I don't now remember as the fickle brute does his work. So 'Alison' becomes good for any therapeutic sentimentalising, even to the extent of evoking a supposedly pure, unconditional love: in the same way that someone starving to death will think back to gorgeous blowouts he/she's had, whereas at the time they weren't all that gargantuan but memory pours a different sauce over them. Perhaps you never had an affair that hopped along the ground rather than took off? None of my business, of course: please excuse me rambling on in curiosity.

I, Like The View said...

oh Christopher, you dear man. . . believe you me, you don't want to get me started on affairs I may or may not have had!

Sarah said...

It's the effervescent and emotionally unstable bit that I like.....it's the stable solid bit that I can't be arsed with! Adrenalin junkie , that's me.

That's exactly the poem to which I was refering.

zIggI said...

what I'm idly wondering is, what you would do if you met her now, say at the checkout at le clerc or somewhere, and you were assailed by those same passionate feelings?

Christopher said...

There, I knew it, Sarah. Both living dangerously with the adrenalin factor and having a stick to scrape along the railings. But what I really hope is that while pondering matters in your hammock you discover the secret of eternal youth. And I hope you let me in on it. Zigs too.

What you (Zigs) suggest must happen quite often. From now on I'll choose the Leclerc check-out queue very carefully for old flames - wrinkled embers now, I expect. It would be torment. Each would have retained the memory of the other when in his/her early twenties. Each would be disappointed by the betrayal of age. Each would be slightly embarrassed by the presence of current other halves and would subconsciously want to apologise for them. Conversation would be entirely superficial. But might there be a secret smile of complicity? Maybe you've never been there? I know I have (tho' not with 'Alison')and actually it's not very pleasant.