At the door of Whinnieknowe, the retirement home where my mother is a few months into her second century, Eloi the basso profundo, perplexed by all the un-French Ws and Hs and Ks, asks me how you pronounce it. He might well be extra aware of the pitfalls of pronunciation: only that morning at breakfast Paul, our B & B proprietor, addressed him as 'Elloy' instead of 'Elwah'. General laughter. I pronounce it for him, telling him it means a small hill (knowe) covered with whins (gorse or broom).
We install ourselves in the south drawing room. We're all in uniform, red tops, black bottoms. Christine the accompanist settles herself at the Clavinova. She doesn't like electronic pianos. There's no control. This one is particularly brassy, even honky-tonkish in the higher registers. Christine does her best to draw a flowing cantabile out of it. It needs all her very considerable skill.
We've come to sing to the residents, who have been placed round the outside of the room. They're all more or less sane. My mother isn't among them. Maybe she's chosen not to come. She can be quite capricious. She's also almost totally deaf, so there isn't much point in her coming anyway.
We set off into Le Cantique de Jean Racine, a serenely beautiful sacred motet by Gabriel Fauré. We sing it in French, but the theology is so abstruse that no one would be much the wiser whatever language we sang it in. About three quarters of the way through the doors open and a flurry of attendants eases my mother's wheelchair through. She makes nods and becks and wreathèd smiles to all the company, who respond appropriately. Through the music, now coming to a close, I hear someone asking 'Fa's thon wifie?' This is local dialect for 'Who's that lady?' (My mother stays in her room most of the time.) Le Cantique comes to an end. They've sung it beautifully, despite this interruption. Polite applause.
Taking into account that my mother's entry has spoilt the other residents' enjoyment of this piece, and that my mother herself hasn't had a chance to hear it, and that maybe a particularly persuasive carer has got her to put her hearing aid in for once, I say to the company 'Would you like to hear it again?'
'No,' someone says from the other side of the room.