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Oh Can You Wash Your Father’s Shirt?

10 Jun

Eventually he agreed to sell the bloody piano. I never wanted it from the day it arrived. Before that even. It was bequeathed to my husband by his grandmother because he was her first grandson. She said it was to be a secret. Perhaps she thought if the others knew, they would all want one. Grandma wanted him to have it, before her departure, so the secret would not leak out. My theory? She wanted rid of it.

Summoned one evening, grandma said she had something especially for him because of his unique place in her heart. At the time, we were desperately hard up and the bills were landing on the mat with amazing frequency. As soon as one cleared another arrived. And so, hopes rising, I hastened him off to grandma then sat and waited.

It seemed like hours before he returned, the bills fanned out on the kitchen table. He wasn’t smiling when he arrived back. I fancied he was disguising a big grin but I was wrong.

‘How much?’

Considering some old people value a pound much higher than we, I was prepared for it not being a fortune, I asked again. The electricity bill, maybe or the poll tax? The poll tax, now there lies a tale for another time.

‘How much?’

‘How much? Bugger all. She’s left me the bloody piano.’


granvilleAn old upright she bought at an auction years ago. Actually she bought two and gave one away. It was riddled with woodworm, totally out of tune, marked where hot cups had been placed on the lid and cost us a damn fortune to get it from her house to ours. By the time it had been treated for infestation, polished and retuned, it cost the best part of the aforesaid electricity bill, gas bill and water rates all thrown in.

With it came a piano stool. I use the term loosely. It was more like a few bits of hardboard, nailed to four roughly hewn legs with a lid on top. Grandma had covered it with some padding and material to match the curtains. She was clever that way. Needless to say it did not match our curtains.

Then, there we were, twenty years later and one hundred miles from our original home. The piano came, of course, another utility bill left for the red one to arrive.

Raymond, my husband, bought a Piano Tutor and attempted to learn. He supports self study based on the theory that if you can read you can learn.

‘Not the piano my dear’ I told him as he approached the keyboard, fingers outstretched as if he was about to type an angry dispatch to the local paper. He challenged the piano to obey but it beat him. The lid down, it became the biggest, most cumbersome, telephone table in the area.

We decided to move again and I decided, brave move on my part, that this time the piano was not moving with us. Grandma had passed on, or over, as she preferred to say, and wouldn’t know.

With a heavy heart, Raymond put it on Ebay. Some naive young woman bought it. Five pounds fifty pence and the stool thrown in for free. In all fairness the stool was full of old sheet music which the innocent young thing may have suspected was worth something and sold on making herself a fortune. Ho hum.

Once it left the house Raymond felt bad, felt as though he had dishonoured grandma’s gift. I said nothing, thought a lot.

‘She used to play to us on Sundays, after church.’ He wailed. ‘That’s why I know all those uplifting hymns.’

Uplifting wasn’t how I would describe them. Rock of Ages, The Old Rugged Cross, Abide with me. Uplifting?

‘She would knock them out and we would all sing.’

Again I said nothing but thought a lot. I thought about the family. Grandma, in her Sunday frock, and hand knitted cardi, she was clever like that, on the piano. Grandad small build and very bossy. He was a mason, so it was, therefore, his right. Their daughter, my mother in law, an ex QA and my father in law, ex sergeant, Royal Engineers. I imagined them both standing to attention. Then of course there would be Raymond, sticky up ginger hair and pebble glasses and his younger brother Cyril, chubby and out of control. How did they keep him still? Grandad probably uttered an incantation that rendered Cyril insensible for a couple of hours? That or the threat of the strap. The notion of the tableau made me smile. Well laugh, actually. Well actually laugh a lot. Shhhh.

Anyway, the piano went, went away, went far, far away. I was so excited about how I would use the space. The parlour was now big enough for a party. Should I throw one to celebrate? Better not. The cats were already confused. The grandchildren disappointed, the husband in despair. Was I the only one jubilant, triumphant even?

It took a couple of days for us to all settle down and get back to normal. The cats stopped pacing around and found new hiding places for their forage. I can’t begin to list what they had left underneath the monster that had been masquerading as a musical instrument. The grandchildren decided that screaming the place down was a reasonable substitute for, ‘I can wash a sailor’s shirt.’ And Raymond’s mood lifted somewhat after a couple of pints and the heavy word.

Would there will be a price to pay for my heartlessness?

Saturday arrived as usual and passed without event. That is until the early hours of Sunday morning. At three o’clock, on the button, a piano thumped out, ‘There is a Green Hill Far Away.’ I poked Raymond in the ribs. He opened his eyes, said something in a foreign language and turned over. It was for me to investigate then. Slippers, dressing gown and a pick axe handle was all I needed to fight off a melodic intruder. I tiptoed down the stairs. Light was teeming under the parlour door. When I reached it I heard singing. Singing, robust and loud, ‘Oh dearly, dearly, has he loved and we must love him too’ I pushed the door, it was black and silent behind it. I closed it, ‘And trust in his redeeming blood’, opened, blackness, silence, closed, ‘And try his works to do’.

Every Sunday is the same. No longer with the pick axe handle but, compelled and without fear, I just steal down the stairs, lean against the parlour door and in vigorous voice, join in. Making my way through Hymns, Ancient and Modern It is Be thou my vision, O Lord of my Heart this week.

Raymond? He hears nothing.